(Reuters) – British author Salman Rushdie, who lived in hiding for nine years under a death sentence from Iran’s supreme leader, said in an interview published on Thursday that something had gone wrong at the heart of Islam.
Rushdie told Le Monde newspaper that his years fleeing the 1989 fatwa from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had forced him to pay close attention to a radicalization of the Muslim world.
“Something has gone wrong at the heart of Islam. It is quite recent. I remember when I was young, many cities in the Muslim world were cosmopolitan cities with a lot of culture,” he said in an interview published in French.
“For me, it is a tragedy that this culture has regressed to this point, like a self-inflicted wound. The Islam in which I grew up was open, influenced by Sufism and Hinduism, and not like the one which is spreading rapidly at the moment.”
The fatwa, in response to his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses”, made Rushdie synonymous with the tussle between freedom of expression and the need to respect religious sensitivities. A memoir of his nine years in hiding following the fatwa was published this week.
The interview was conducted on September 12, just as a film mocking the Prophet Mohammad sparked violent protests across the Islamic world. These included a deadly attack in Libya which killed the U.S. ambassador and three embassy staff.
The California-made film, and a series of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad published by a French satirical weekly on Wednesday, have revived international debate over free speech, religion and the right to offend. Many Muslims consider any representation of Allah or the Prophet Mohammad blasphemous.
“There is a limit beyond which you cannot blame the West any more,” Rushdie told Le Monde. “Having said that, if there was the slightest sign that Muslim society was able to create an open democracy, I would change my opinion.”
This week an Iranian religious foundation increased its reward for the killing of Rushdie, in response to the film mocking Mohammad.
(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Robert Woodward)