Right of Reply: Fuad Nahdi

The editor of an Islamic journal criticises our call for the lifting of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie
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The Independent Culture
YOUR LEADING article urging pressure on Iran to lift the fatwa against Rushdie is based on a misapprehension of how Islamic law functions. Islam is a non-institutional religion where verdicts are the responsibility of their authors and not of the hierarchies to which they belong; there is no Muslim "church" with the power to work posthumous changes in Khomeini's mind. Subsequent Muslim authorities may dissent from Khomeini's views but those who remain loyal to his interpretation will always regard the fatwa as legitimate.

Islamophobic discourse of the type platformed by The Satanic Verses legitimises systematic discrimination against Muslims. A Jewish writer who aired anti- Semitic views and denied the Holocaust, would, I suspect, not command such enthusiasm on your part. And yet the degree of hurt to a despised community has been no less; indeed, the Muslim community is more vulnerable, poorer, and less represented than British Jewry.

A more worthy target for your campaigning zeal would be the blasphemy laws, which at present discriminate in favour of the established religion. In 1994, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ban by the Austrian courts on the anti-Christian film Council in Heaven. In their verdict, the judges "did not consider that the film's merit as a work of art or as a contribution to public debate in Austrian society outweighed those features which made it essentially offensive to the general public".

If Britain could extend this principle to protect minority as well as majority faiths, Rushdie would undoubtedly be safe to emerge from the shadows. That is the only approach which respects the principle of human equality, as well as Mr Rushdie's right to life.