- In 1989, Khomeini called for British author Salman Rushdie to be killed for allegedly blaspheming Islam in his book.
- The British government sent an ambassador back to Iran in 1999 only after they suspended the bounty on Rushdie.
- The bounty for Rushdie highlights Iran's belief that it should protect Islamic sensibilities anywhere in the world.
Editor's Note: FMSO’s Operational Environment Watch provides translated selections and analysis from a diverse range of foreign articles and other media that analysts and expert contributors believe will give military and security experts an added dimension to their critical thinking about the Operational Environment.
Source: جایزه اجرای حکم اعدام سلمان رشدی 500 هزاردلار افزایش یافت” Jayizeh Ijra-ye Hakam Salman Rushdie 500,000 Hazar Dollar Ifzayesh Yaft (Bounty for Salman Rushdie’s Execution Raises $500,000 ),” Mehr News Agency, 15 September 2012.
On 14 February 1989 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for British author Salman Rushdie to be killed for allegedly blaspheming Islam in his book, The Satanic Verses. The brazenness of Khomeini’s order caught the West by surprise. At the time, there was optimism in both Europe and the United States that the Islamic Republic had turned a new page. The Iran-Iraq War was over, and pragmatists such as Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were on the rise.
Upon the announcement of the death warrant, almost every European embassy withdrew its ambassador. While these trickled back over subsequent months, the British government announced that it would not resume relations with Iran until the warrant was lifted. Khomeini’s death, however, made it very difficult to do so within the context of Iranian politics, as his successor as Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, did not have the religious or political credentials to reverse Khomeini.
The freeze in relations between London and Tehran continued for more than a decade. On 18 May 1999 the British government sent an ambassador back to Iran after the Iranian government agreed to suspend the bounty. The next day, however, as the British ambassador was settling into the embassy, the Iranian government re-imposed the bounty. Over subsequent years the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) reiterated its desire to kill Salman Rushdie.
That against the backdrop of criticism of an internet film ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad the 15 Khordad Foundation has increased the bounty for Salman Rushdie’s murder highlights both the ideological nature of the Iranian regime and its belief that it should have the mantle to protect Islamic sensibilities anywhere in the world. The Foundation, named for the anniversary on the Persian calendar of the Shah’s 5 June 1963 arrest of Khomeini and the huge resulting popular protest against the Shah, is today a revolutionary group close to the IRGC. The Foundation’s belief that, had Rushdie been killed, a Danish newspaper never would have satirized the Prophet and that films such as The Innocence of Muslims never would have been made suggests a conspiratorial analysis which both dismisses individual liberty and free speech in the West and suggests an assumption that any medium criticizing Islam is directed by Zionists and America.
The tone of the article and the involvement of a revolutionary foundation (bonyad) so closely linked to the Revolutionary Guards suggest that Iranian statements regarding Rushdie are not mere rhetoric, but rather real threats which an increasingly ideological and IRGC-dominated government might actually carry out.