Rushdie's Right

December 14, 1991

The most poignant commemoration of the First Amendment this week came from a man not covered by it. As though popping out of a cake, Salman Rushdie appeared on a heavily guarded stage at Columbia University in New York to say that "Free speech is life itself."

He should know. Since his novel, "The Satanic Verses," was seen to blaspheme Islam, Mr. Rushdie has been under sentence of death. In 1989, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual ruler of Iran, instructed the faithful to murder him. He lives in secret protective custody, his private life destroyed, at great expense to British taxpayers.

Mr. Rushdie is a British citizen born a Muslim in India. His struggle to create an identity as "a secular Muslim" is his own affair. But until Iran renounces the murderous decree, it is violating Britain's sovereignty and Mr. Rushdie's rights, and does not belong in the community of nations. And Americans can understand better why, if we did not have the First Amendment, we would need to invent it, however difficult that would be.

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