British Muslims join in global Rushdie protests

Muslims angered by Britain’s decision to honour author Salman Rushdie with a knighthood were rallying in London on Friday, warning that anger over the award could match the fierce reaction to publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in Denmark last year.

Organisers of a protest outside Regent’s Park Mosque in London claimed several hundred demonstrators planned to denounce the decision to reward Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses led to a death threat from Iran in 1989.

”This knighthood is just another example of [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair and his government’s attempts to secularise Muslims and reward apostates,” said Anjem Choudray, protest organiser and a former head of the British wing of the banned radical group al-Muhajiroun.

”Rushdie is a hate figure across the Muslim world because of his insults to Islam,” Choudray said. ”This honour will have ramifications here and across the world” just as with the protests over the Danish cartoon.

The award, announced on Saturday, was among the Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours list, which is decided on by independent committees that vet nominations from the public and government.

”It’s no excuse for Blair,” said Choudray. ”The awards pass across his desk and he could easily have blocked it, knowing it would offend Muslims everywhere.”

Iran’s late spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill the writer because his book The Satanic Verses was deemed to insult Islam. The writer, who was raised Muslim, denied the charge, but was forced to live in hiding for almost a decade.

Some analysts have expressed surprise his award was approved, wondering whether members of the committee considered likely repercussions.

”There is an impression they really didn’t consider the potential reaction,” said Rosemary Hollis, director of research at London’s Chatham House think tank. ”The Foreign Office has some input and surely pointed out that this would be received badly in some quarters.”

Hollis said she believed the fallout has the potential to be as damaging as the Danish cartoon furore.

Iran and Pakistan have made formal protests to Britain against the honour, the Foreign Office said, while Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari acknowledged the award could be used by militants to justify violence. — Sapa-AP

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