The irreverent, Indian-born, British author Salman Rushdie now says he repents having written "The Satanic Verses" and has renewed his faith in Islam. This, however, is not enough for fundamentalist Muslim leaders in Iran and Britain; their death sentence against the author still stands. In Iran, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says to do otherwise would change the "divine ruling" of his late predecessor, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, whose mobs seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran 11 years ago. In Britain, the head of the Muslim Youth Movement has imposed conditions he admits Mr. Rushie can never meet.
Mr. Rushdie's esoteric novel in English explores faith and doubt among transplanted emigrants. It contains dream sequences that burlesque Islamic belief and deeply offend believers. The book is banned in many countries, and for months after February 1989 was effectively censored elsewhere through fear of booksellers to stock or display it.
For 22 months, Mr. Rushdie has lived in protective custody at great personal anguish and great expense to the British taxpayers. Although Britain and Iran have seen fit to repair relations, Iran's support for the threat amounts to an act of war against Britain that continues.
Now Mr. Rushdie has met with Muslim clergy from Egypt and Britain and pronounced his belief in the oneness of God and the genuineness of the prophecy of the Prophet Mohammed. He has promised to authorize no new translation or paperback printing of "The Satanic Verses" while the novel still offends. But he would not attempt its withdrawal from circulation.
The aim of all this was both to bring Mr. Rushdie to the faith of his fathers, and to end the threat to his life. The latter aim has not been achieved. Ayatollah Khamenei says "The verdict of Islam would remain unchanged even if Rushdie repented and became the most pious Muslim of the age."
This is a disappointment to the Islamic community of Britain, which was deeply offended by Salman Rushdie yet desirous of living in peace with the larger British community.
Islam is a great religion deserving of universal respect. As in Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism, the faith is not to blame for crimes or blasphemies by apostates or adherents.
Mr. Rushdie's faith is his own business. The truth of his conversion will give strength to Islam in the modern world -- if it stands the test of years after the threat to his life is rescinded. That threat is no blemish on Islam. It is, rather, a searing indictment of individuals who utter and maintain it, and of the rulers of Iran, who do not or dare not repudiate it.