Salman Rushdie is Not the Only One Who Has Been Targeted Over The Satanic Verses

In the 1990s, after Iran's fatwa, translators and publishers of the book became targets of assassination.

4 min read
Edited By :Padmashree Pande

14 February 1989. Less than half a year after the publishing of Salman Rushdie's book, The Satanic Verses, a fatwa was ordered on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme leader of Iran at the time.

It ordered "Muslims of the world rapidly to execute the author and the publishers of the book" to ensure that "no one will any longer dare to offend the sacred values of Islam."

Khomeini died in June that year, but the fatwa lived on. And 33 years later, Rushdie lies in a hospital room, somehow surviving on a ventilator, likely to lose his eye, because a 24-year-old man who wasn't even born at the time of Khomeini's proclamation, may have decided to act on it.

Rushdie was attacked ahead of a lecture in western New York on Friday, 12 August. The New York state police have identified his attacker, Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old man from New Jersey, whose social media shows him to be a supporter of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the late Iranian commander, Qassem Solemani, who was assassinated by the United States in 2020.

Iran's current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, since he assumed power in 1989, never issued a fatwa to reverse his predecessor's orders. This, along with a $3million dollar bounty on his head, forced Rushdie to go into hiding. But he was not the only one in danger.

The Satanic Verses was such a controversial hit upon publication that while it was getting banned in some countries (like India), it was getting translated for people to read in other countries. And in the 1990s, four translators were targetted. One of them did not survive.


Norwegian Publisher William Nygaard, 11 October 1993

A Norwegian publisher of Rushdie's book was shot and badly wounded outside his home in Oslo on 11 October, 1993.

William Nygaard was shot three times as he was getting into his car. One bullet pierced through his back, according to an Associated Press report published on the day of the attack.

In the 1990s, after Iran's fatwa,  translators and publishers of the book became targets of assassination.

William Nygaard. 

(Photo: Twitter/@Vuelodelcometa)

Nygaard, who was 50 years old at the time, was taken to Oslo's Ullevaal Hospital, for treatment. His publishing house, Oslo's Aschehoug Forlag, had printed one of the first translations of The Satanic Verses, when it released a Norwegian version in April 1989.

Twenty-five years after the attack, the Norwegian police filed charges in the shooting, and even confirmed what they denied at the time of the attack: the attempted murder was indeed about Nygaard's decision to publish a translated version of Rushdie's book.

Turkish Translator Aziz Nesin, 2 July 1993

In what is infamously known as the Sivas Massacre, thousands of Sunni Muslims in the city of Sivas, Turkey, set fire to Hotel Madimak on 2 July 1993, the venue of a conference for Alevi (a sect within Twelver Shi'a Islam) intellectuals.

Albeit disputed, the Turkish government claimed at the time that the attack was aimed to kill Aziz Nesin, a Turkish writer who had, in May 1993, published extracts from The Satanic Verses in a left-wing newspaper called Aydinlik, leading to local riots. Alevi commentators claim that the conference was the target and not Nesin alone.

In the 1990s, after Iran's fatwa,  translators and publishers of the book became targets of assassination.

Aziz Nesin. 

(Photo: Twitter/@Vuelodelcometa)

Nevertheless, while around 40 people died in the mob attack, Nesin managed to escape using a fire department ladder. The rioters had also accused Nesin of "spreading atheism" with a speech he had given around the same time.

Interestingly, Rushdie, while condemning the attack as "atrocious", distanced himself from Nesin, according to an Los Angeles Times report, stating that his translation of the book was against his wishes and a "piratical act . . . a manipulative act."


Japanese Translator Hitoshi Igarashi, 12 July 1991

The Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was found dead in the hallway outside his office at Tsukuba University, Tokyo.

44-year-old Hitoshi Igarashi, who was an assistant professor of comparative culture was reportedly stabbed several times, leading to his demise.

In the 1990s, after Iran's fatwa,  translators and publishers of the book became targets of assassination.

Hitoshi Igarashi. 

(Photo: Twitter/@OliverJia1014)

A janitor, according to a New York Times report from 13 July 1991, found the scholar's body with slash wounds on his neck, face and hands. The police made no arrests.

Rushdie had reacted to the murder as well, putting out a statement which read, "I am extremely distressed by the news of the murder of Mr. Hitoshi Igarashi and I offer my condolences and deepest sympathy to his family."


Italian Translator Ettore Capriolo, 3 July 1991

Just a few days before the fatal attack on Igarashi, on 3 July, 1991, 61-year-old Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator of 'The Satanic Verses,' was stabbed in his apartment in Milan, Italy.

He was beaten and attacked with a knife by a man who claimed to be Iranian.

In the 1990s, after Iran's fatwa,  translators and publishers of the book became targets of assassination.

Ettore Capriolo. 

(Photo: Twitter/@nikocosmonaut)

According to the Milan Police, the attacked said that he had a "connection" to the Iranian Embassy in Rome. The embassy, regarding the attack, did not make any comments at the time.

Capriolo survived the assault, although he did suffer injuries.

(With inputs from Reuters, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press.)

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Edited By :Padmashree Pande
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