Rushdie: it's time to tell the story of my fatwa

Author of 'The Satanic Verses' ready to describe his years under police protection
  • @tompeck

Salman Rushdie is to write a book about the decade he spent in hiding while living under a fatwa issued by the then-Supreme Leader of Iran, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini.

Rushdie, who is in the middle of a five-year stint as a lecturer at the Emory University in Atlanta, said: "It's my story, and at some point it needs to be told."

Rushdie was speaking at the opening of an exhibition of his manuscripts, letters and photographs that he donated to the university in 2006, and which have finally been catalogued and transferred into digital format.

"That point is getting closer, I think," added Rushdie. "When it was in cardboard boxes and dead computers, it would have been very, very difficult, but now it's all organised."

Rushdie, 62, was forced into hiding in 1989 when Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill the author, claiming that his book The Satanic Verses insulted Islam.

The author has said very little about this period in his life, although he once had to set the record straight. In 2008 a former police bodyguard, Ron Evans, claimed in a book that after becoming irritated with Rushdie, his protection officers locked the author in a cupboard and went to the pub. Rushdie claimed in the High Court that this, and 11 other statements made in the book, including the claim that he had been suicidal, were false. Evans apologised and 4,000 undistributed copies were pulped.

But Rushdie's relationship with his protectors was occasionally strained. His close friend Frances D'Souza, former chair of the International Committee for the Defence of Salman Rushdie, who now sits in the House of Lords, said: "He had to fight every inch of the way to go the cinema, the opera, the theatre. The security men would have been much happier to keep him at home under lock and key.

"But he absolutely thought to keep very close relationships with his friends. He never gave in to any supposed threats. His security people always said, 'No, don't do it, don't go there.' He always said, 'Yes I must'."

A non-fiction account of 10 years effectively under house arrest will mark a distinct departure from the Man Booker prize-winning author's usual magical realist fare, but the period in question was certainly not short of incident.

At one point the bounty on Rushdie's head rose to £1.8m. The Japanese translator of the work was killed, the Norwegian and Italian translators barely survived assassination attempts, and an attempt on the life of the Turkish translator in 1993 resulted in a riot causing the deaths of 37 intellectuals who had gathered in Sivas, Turkey, for a cultural festival.

Shortly after, Rushdie made a rare public appearance on stage at a U2 concert at Wembley Stadium in front of 80,000 people, the first time he had been seen in public for years.

In 1994, under great secrecy, he appeared on the BBC satirical news quiz Have I Got News For You. According to his team captain that night, Paul Merton, Rushdie was only given permission to appear by the police because his protection officers were fans of the show.

D'Souza doubts that the book will be a "straight diary". "There are a huge number of incidents that people may not be aware of," she said. "There were times when he was absolutely under threat. But he will make it into a novel of a kind.

"One of the things he said was that he felt that unless one had an interior life [it would not be possible to] stand with any sanity the kind of life he had to live. It will be a reflection of what that does to a creative mind."