/ 25 June 2008

Rushdie receives knighthood from British queen

Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday gave British author Salman Rushdie a knighthood, which caused protests by Muslims around the world when it was announced last year.

Rushdie (61) was knighted for his services to literature.

When the knighthood was announced in the queen’s birthday honours list last June, it sparked condemnation from a number of Muslim countries and organisations.

A Pakistani government minister at one point suggested the award justified suicide bombings.

And al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, warned that the terror network was preparing a ”precise response” to Britain’s decision to transform Rushdie into ”Sir Salman”.

In the subsequent furore, British government ministers stressed that they were sorry if people had been upset by the honour, but stressed it was for a lifelong body of work and would not apologise for the award.

”I am thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour and am very grateful that my work has been recognised in this way,” Rushdie said after the announcement last year.

The India-born writer, who was raised as a Sunni Muslim, has lived since 1989 under the shadow of an Iranian fatwa — or religious decree — calling for his death over his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses.

The author is accused by some Muslims of blaspheming Islam in the novel, which triggered an international furore when it was first published in 1988.

Rushdie was forced into hiding after Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued the fatwa calling for his death, claiming his book insulted Islam.

Rushdie was granted a 24-hour police guard but still had to move house repeatedly and could not even tell his children where he lived.

After nearly a decade hiding away, Rushdie began to appear in public more and more, eventually becoming a socialite fixture on the international party circuit.

Following the announcement of Rushdie’s knighthood last year, Iran said the death sentence still stands.

”The stance of the Islamic Republic of Iran with regard to this issue has not changed from what was put forward by the Imam Khomeini,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.

Rushdie’s second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the prestigious Booker Prize. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. — AFP