Stop Rushdie's protection, say Asian peers

Muslims object to UK taxpayers footing the bill as 'Satanic Verses' author parties in New York
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Indy Politics

It was just another night on the town in New York for Salman Rushdie. The 53-year-old author of The Satanic Verses danced through the early hours with the singer Grace Jones at a party to celebrate Giorgio Armani's 25 years in fashion.

It was just another night on the town in New York for Salman Rushdie. The 53-year-old author of The Satanic Verses danced through the early hours with the singer Grace Jones at a party to celebrate Giorgio Armani's 25 years in fashion.

That was earlier this month and Mr Rushdie was having a whale of a time. "I don't know who would dare to be anywhere else tonight in New York," he declared, blissfully unaware that back home in London eyebrows were being raised.

Two of Labour's most influential Asian peers now want the Government to scrap the estimated £1m a year of taxpayers' money spent on round-the-clock security for him. Mr Rushdie is being accused of living the high life in New York, accompanied by his girlfriend, Padma Lakshmi, 29, a model and television presenter. He quit London because he was fed up with the "constant attack on the cost of my protection".

"He tries his best to get publicity whether it's with a model or saying his life is in danger," said Lord Ahmed of Rotherham. "He gets a lot of money for the books he writes but it costs the British taxpayer to protect him. The money would be better spent on the police."

Lord Ahmed's call for protection to be withdrawn was supported by Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green. "Public money should be used for someone who is grateful but he has used his time to discredit the Muslim community," she said, adding: "We should not pay for this protection when he has so little gratitude for it. It is a mockery of democracy."

Mr Rushdie has enjoyed celebrity status since quitting London earlier this year, fed up with the capital's literary carping which he described as "backbiting and incestuous". He and Padma Lakshmi are fixtures at parties given by the New York glitterati.

In recent weeks, Mr Rushdie could be found at the artist Damien Hirst's New York exhibition, at the premiere of Madonna's latest movie, and at prominent baseball games with fellow authors. While in New York, he will also be expected to write, having signed a multi-million-pound, five-book deal with Random House for four novels and one book of essays. His third wife Elizabeth and two sons remain in the UK.

Mr Rushdie's troubles began in 1989 when a fatwa was imposed on him for blasphemy by the Ayatollah Khomeini following the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses.

Since then he has lived in 30 different safe houses at an estimated cost to the British tax payer of £10m. The fatwa was lifted in 1998 and Mr Rushdie began to step out once more into the public limelight, although he insists he is still at risk. In December last year, 500 Iranians each promised to sell a kidney to raise money to have him killed.

According to senior Home Office sources, the Special Branch protection offered to Mr Rushdie remains in place on both sides of the Atlantic although official channels refuse to confirm or deny this. Lord Ahmed asked a parliamentary question in the House of Lords earlier this month on the continuing cost of protecting Mr Rushdie and was met with the standard Home Office response that matters of an individual's security are never discussed.

Last night the Metropolitan police again repeated that it was unable to discuss matters of security or individual cases.

But while Mr Rushdie has escaped harm, others have not been so lucky. The Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was killed by a hit squad and both the Italian translator and the Norwegian publisher have been seriously wounded.

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