Rushdie appeals to Iranians to lift 'Satanic Verses' death sentence


LONDON -- Salman Rushdie, still under Islamic death threat for writing "The Satanic Verses," carried his appeal against the sentence yesterday to the Iranians who imposed it.

In a broadcast on the Persian service of the BBC's World Service, he said: "You know I have never been the enemy of Islam. I have never been this figure with horns and a tail. I am not the sort of person who would have written a book attacking Islam."

He said his book had been "much misunderstood." He asserted that his book was not blasphemous and said all the "so-called insults" were "contained in the dreams of a man who was going mad, and the reason he was going mad was because he had lost his faith in Islam."

He added: "I am very sad, but I feel a process of understanding has now begun."

Mr. Rushdie's broadcast followed his decision this week to affirm Islam as his personal faith and reject publication of a paperback edition of the book.

The author also explained his affirmation of the Islamic faith, announced after he met six religious scholars Monday, in an article for yesterday's edition of the Times.

The two initiatives were clearly meant to fuel prospects of conciliation and end the death threat he has lived under for almost two years.

Mr. Rushdie has been in hiding and under police guard since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late Iranian spiritual leader, imposed a death sentence on him for blaspheming the prophet Mohammed in "The Satanic Verses."

The death sentence was renewed by Iran's current spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the wake of Mr. Rushdie's "repentance."

Writing in the Times, Mr. Rushdie said he viewed the furor over his book as "a family quarrel." He explained: "I am certainly not a good Moslem. But I am able now to say that I am Moslem; in fact, it is a source of happiness to say that I am now inside, and a part of, the community whose values have always been closest to my heart."

Mr. Rushdie said that while he felt safer in the wake of his meeting with the scholars, he regretted the renewed threats ZTC from Tehran, adding: "My real safety, I have long believed, lies in the attitudes of the Moslem community at large.

"My meeting with the scholars, at which they declared themselves satisfied with the sincerity of my position, is the traditional Islamic way of resolving an issue of alleged offense against Moslem sanctities."

The mood of the meeting had been "generous and even affectionate, and it moved me greatly."

He expressed confidence that most Moslems would now "wish this matter to be laid to rest."

He said: "Goodwill is replacing ill will. That is cause for celebration."

He went on: "I appeal to all Moslems and to Moslem organizations and governments everywhere, to join in the process of healing that we have begun.

"What I know of Islam is that tolerance, compassion and love are at its very heart. I believe that in the weeks and months to come the language of enmity will be replaced by the language of love."

Responding to Moslem demands for the total withdrawal of the book, he said he could not "betray" the many readers who had found it to be of "real value."

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