Rushdie Pulls Out of Indian Literary Festival After ‘Assassin’ Threat

British novelist Salman Rushdie withdrew Friday from India’s largest literary festival, saying he feared assassination after his participation was opposed by hardline Muslim groups.

“I have now been informed by intelligence sources... that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to eliminate me,” the Indian-born writer said in statement read by the producer of the Jaipur Literary Festival, Sanjoy Roy.

Rushdie had been scheduled to speak on the festival’s opening day Friday, but the event kicked off without him.

Rushdie’s 1988 book “The Satanic Verses”, which is banned in India, is still seen by many Muslims worldwide as a blasphemous work that insults their religion.

The 65 year old writer, who was born in Mumbai, spent a decade in hiding after Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death over the novel.

While voicing doubts about the accuracy of the intelligence he had received, Rushdie said it would be irresponsible to attend the festival in such circumstances.

“Irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience and my fellow writers. I will therefore not come to Jaipur as planned,” he said.

The row over Rushdie’s participation began last week with demands from the influential Darululoom Deoband seminary in northern India that he be kept out of the country.

The controversy meant extra security was in place in Jaipur, with bag checks and scanners for the long queues of arriving crowds, who were supervised by large numbers of police.

Rushdie, who attended the festival in 2007 without incident, was due to speak about his 1981 Booker prize-winning novel “Midnight’s Children” and also join a panel discussion on how Indians have adapted the English language.

The annual Jaipur festival – which is free to attend – has mushroomed into a major literary, business and social occasion in the Indian calendar, and it attracts tens of thousands of Indian and foreign visitors.

Among more than 250 speakers this year are US chat show queen Oprah Winfrey, biologist and atheist author Richard Dawkins, and Indian best-selling novelist Chetan Bhagat.

AFP

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