Bestselling authors rallied to the support of Sir Salman Rushdie last night over the announcement by an Iranian religious foundation that it was raising its bounty for his murder.
Sir Salman is currently in New York where he is promoting the publication of a memoir chronicling his time living under a fatwa imposed by the late Ayatollah Khomeini over his novel The Satanic Verses.
The tour has been overshadowed by a declaration from the religious leader Hassan Sanei, head of the semi-official 15 Khordad Foundation, that he was adding another $500,000 (£307,000) to the hardline group's existing reward of $2.8m (£1.72m) for killing the novelist.
It was raising the bounty in protest at the online film The Innocence of Muslims which has sparked violent outrage in parts of the Islamic world.
"Surely if the sentence of the Imam [Khomeini] had been carried out, the later insults in the form of caricatures, articles and the making of movies would not have occurred," Ayatollah Sanei said. The British Government called for urgent action against the foundation.
Sir Salman told i that the foundation's announcement was not a fatwa – which was officially lifted in 1998 when Tehran reopened diplomatic relations with Britain – but rather a "raising of money". He declined to answer any further questions on the matter.
Fellow authors and members of English PEN, the writers' organisation which promotes free speech, urged others to back him. Hanif Kureishi said: "Through his extraordinary books and bravery in the face of intolerance, Salman Rushdie has shown the world that literature and free speech can never be taken for granted."
Fay Weldon called for a "united front of defiance". She said: "Appeasement is no answer, and why we drifted into the trouble we are in today." Lisa Appignanesi said: "Yet again a novelist is being used by politicians in their political machinations. Rushdie needs vocal support from anyone who believes in the good that free expression and unhindered imagination bring to our societies."
In a BBC interview promoting his new memoir Joseph Anton – the pseudonym he adopted while in hiding following the fatwa - Sir Salman said he thought "a book which was critical of Islam would be difficult to be published now".Reuse content