Norway's Quarrel with Iran

January 22, 1995

Norway deserves the support of all nations in its quarrel with Iran, which concerns the right of Iranian authorities to order the murder of someone in Norway or anywhere outside Iran.

Iran has no such right. For it to act as if it did violates international law, Norwegian sovereignty, common decency and respect for humanity. Politics is no excuse. Neither is religious devotion.

The incident flows from the fatwa, or decree, by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of Iran, in 1989, calling on believers to kill the Indian-born British writer, Salman Rushdie, for blasphemy in his novel, "The Satanic Verses." The fatwa was reiterated by Iranian leaders, with a foundation offering a large reward to an assassin. Mr. Rushdie has lived in hiding since, protected by security agencies at British taxpayer expense.

The Japanese translator of the novel was stabbed to death in 1991, and the Italian translator wounded in a knife attack that year. William Nygaard, publisher of the novel in Norway, was shot and wounded in Oslo in October 1993. Iran denied complicity but in October 1994 recalled its ambassador for being too conciliatory in a letter to the Norwegian government, which last week was "withdrawn."

That is the basis for Norway calling home its ambassador and "evaluating" the relationship. The Iranian response, that "Norway has become the spokesman for anti-Islamic factions in Europe," is nonsense. Norway has become the spokesman for its own sovereignty and law and order.

No one questions the right of Muslims to take offense at "The Satanic Verses," or of Iran to ban it in Iran. But Iran does not get to decide what may be published or who may remain alive in Norway. Until Iran concedes that point, it keeps itself outside the community of nations.

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