Salman Rushdie: 'John Major didn't back me up over fatwa'


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Indy Politics

John Major's government offered little assistance to Sir Salman Rushdie when an Iranian cleric called for him to be killed, while the Foreign Office was actually "hostile," the author has claimed.

Ayatollah Khomeini imposed the fatwa against him in 1989, following the publication of The Satanic Verses. In an interview with The Independent, Rushdie said the government of the time "had this idea of keeping quiet and letting it go away". He added the death sentence would have been lifted earlier had the Major government pushed the issue.

Sir Salman said: "The Foreign Office I often felt was hostile," before adding: "That sense I'd made a terrible nuisance of myself was there in quite a lot of the civil servants that I met."

The attitudes changed following the election of New Labour in 1997 driven by support from Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and his deputy Derek Fatchett.

He said Mr Cook "was just passionately determined to fix this. It was so different, the mood".

The then Prime Minister Tony Blair invited him to dinner at Chequers on one anniversary of the fatwa "as a deliberate statement".

When Iran's President Mohammad Khatami declared the issue was "completely finished" in 1998, Rushdie saw the move as the Iranian government becoming "genuinely interested in a rapprochement with the West". He was sure the issue could have been resolved earlier, he added, saying: "I could see the moment the British government was saying, 'We've got to fix this, we've got to deal with it,' the Iranians actually listened."