On August 12 this year, the British author Salman Rushdie was attacked onstage in western New York and suffered life-changing injuries. It came some 33 years after controversial elements of Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses prompted Ayatollah Khomeini to invite Muslims around the world to kill him and all those involved in its publication.
Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old man accused of trying to stab Rushdie to death onstage, is a US citizen born to Lebanese parents. He has been formally charged with attempted murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree.
Was Hadi Matar Influenced by Khomeini’s Fatwa?
Matar’s pages on social media are filled with pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini, current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and General Ghasem Soleimani: the late commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, who achieved semi-mythic status among regime supporters after his assassination in January 2020.
In a short interview after his arrest, Matar praised Ayatollah Khomeini, and had this to say about Rushdie: “I don’t like him. I don’t like him very much. He’s someone who attacked Islam.” He also declared he had read just two pages of The Satanic Verses.
The Iranian government has denied any connection with Matar but hardline and IRGC-aligned media outlets praised the attack not 24 hours later. The hardline newspaper Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is directly appointed by Ali Khamenei, called the assault on Rushdie an “alarm bell” for those responsible for the assassination of Ghasem Soleimani in 2020.
“The attack on Rushdie shows taking revenge on American soil is not a difficult job and from now on Trump and Pompeo must feel that they are more in danger,” an editorial said. It also emphasized that Khomeini’s fatwa is still valid and must be carried out.
Despite clearly being enamored with parts of Iranian state doctrine, Matar is 24, and was not born in 1989 when Khomeini issued the lethal fatwa. As such, it could be argued he is too young to be a follower of Ayatollah Khomeini.
According to Shia edicts, he would have had to have chosen choose a living marja, or “source of emulation” – an interpreter of Islamic jurisprudence – on reaching puberty, rather than follow the orders of a dead one.
It could, therefore, also be argued that Matar’s decision to attack Rushdie was a personal one, not influenced by the former leader of Tehran. Iranian state media outlets have already suggested the attempted murder ,might have been a “personal settling of accounts”. In reality, though, it would be hard to argue Khomeini’s fatwa had not emboldened those fanatics who have sought out people connected to The Satanic Verses since 1989.
Where Does the Islamic Republic Stand?
After Khomeini issued the fatwa in the last year of his life, the 15 Khordad Foundation, a large parastatal bonyad (religious foundation) under the control of the Supreme Leader, set a reward of two million US dollars for anybody who killed Rushdie. It increased the award to $2.5 million and then to $3.3 million in 2012. There were no conditions attached to it.
Since then, all those with real power in Iran – notably members of the unelected arms of the state – have continued to doubled down on the fatwa and its contents. This has come despite the fact that technically, any fatwa should have expired with Ayatollah Khomeini’s death.
In September 1998, President Mohammad Khatami told the UN General Assembly that in his view at least matter was “completely finished”. He tempered this by saying his government would “neither support nor hinder” any future attempt on Rushdie’s life.
In the aftermath of Khatami’s comments, the British and Iranian foreign ministers met in New York and agreed to restore full diplomatic relations. Britain had lowered these relations to chargé d’affaires level after Khomeini’s fatwa.
Khatami repeated his pledge in 2001: “I expect and hope that this question, which has been raised incessantly for many years, will not come up again… We should regard the Salman Rushdie case as closed.”
The president of Iran, however, is a chief executive and not a figurehead. The real agenda is set by the Supreme Leader and enforced by the bodies that fall under his control.
In his 2005 message to Hajj pilgrims, Ali Khamenei described Salman Rushdie as having been “sentenced to capital punishment” and said the threat against him “must” be carried out. In 2017, he answered a question posed to him online by a follower – “Is the fatwa on the apostasy of the cursed liar Salman Rushdie still in effect? What is a Muslim’s duty in this regard?” – with: “The decree is as Imam Khomeini issued.”
In 2019, in a Twitter message to Hajj pilgrims, Ayatollah Khamenei emphasized that the fatwa was “solid and inviolable”. He removed the post only after Twitter threatened him with a perma-ban.
Officials appointed by Khamenei have also announced that Khomeini’s call to murder ought to be carried out. They include Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of Kayhan, and officers of the IRGC. Some former government ministers have backed it too – most notably Khatami’s very own Culture Minister, Ataollah Mohajerani, who today lives in London.
Can Rushdie Sue the Islamic Reublic?
First and foremost there will be Matar’s criminal trial for Rushdie and legal representatives to focus on. The government of the Islamic Republic is unsurprisingly not a defendant in the case but what ends up being said in that courtroom could change the balance of things to come.
Rushdie survived the attack on August 12. But he suffered three stab wounds to the right side of his neck, four to the stomach, a puncture wound to his right eye, which he may now lose, two puncture wounds to the chest, and a laceration to the right thigh. He is 75 years old.
If fresh evidence linking Matar’s actions to those of the Islamic Republic emerge during the trial, and possibly even without it, Rushdie and his family would have a strong basis on which to lodge a civil case against the Islamic Republic in a US court.
Even without touching the events of this month, Rushdie and those close to him be able to demonstrate that they have experienced prolongued periods of stress, anxiety, uncertainty and physical upheaval because of Khomeini’s (and Khamenei’s) calls to murder. Iran has been on the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism since 1984 and it is difficult to imagine an American court refusing such a case.
Of course, any such complaint against the Islamic Republic would likely be heard in absentia; Tehran has never dispatched representatives to a legal case in which it or officials stand accused. Any damages or costs awarded to Rushdie would also probably be symbolic, unless it could somehow be drawn from blocked Iranian assets.
There would be some precedent for this. American courts have awarded billions of dollars to the victims of terror attacks linked to the Islamic Republic. And last May a Canadian court awarded £107m, plus interest, to the families of six victims of the Flight 752 disaster.
Source » iranwire