Remembering the Salman Rushdie Fatwa
Several people who were in the industry in 1989, when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie because of The Satanic Verses, recalled that scary time, when bookstores that continued to carry the book were threatened--and Cody's Books, Berkeley, Calif., and a nearby Waldenbooks were targets of firebombs. (The matter came up recently in connection with the threats by North Korea against Sony Pictures' The Interview and Rachel Maddow's erroneous reporting that indies had stopped selling The Satanic Verses in 1989.)
Fern Jaffe, who owned Paperbacks Plus, Bronx, N.Y., wrote: "In February, 1989, my local newspaper wrote an editorial about the wonderful community independent bookstore Paperbacks Plus that continued to sell The Satanic Verses before and after the big guys took it off the shelf. The editorial came out on a Wednesday, maybe on February 25, and on the next day (3:00 a.m.-ish) the newspaper office was firebombed. Life changed for me that day. I had to change my phone number--too many crazy scary phone calls. I had my car watched by the FBI. I had packages checked for bombs. I was warned about acid in my face. Years later when Random House hosted Rushdie's first public appearance, I was invited to meet him. When told that I was the bookseller from Paperbacks Plus, he stood up from his desk seat and embraced me. I was a bookseller then and even today in my retirement heart I am still that bookseller."
Mary McCarthy of Cokesbury, who was then a commission rep with Abraham-Welch, remembered the atmosphere at the ABA Show (now BEA) in 1989: "Random House had all the Penguin reps register at the hotel as Random House reps (early détente?). Peter Mayer from Penguin was under serious threat and was very brave. One of the translators [Hitoshi Igarashi in Japan] was murdered--so some of the craziness was very real.
"A security officer came up to me and asked why all these nutty people were running up to him and wanted to pet his security dog and why did they keep calling the dog Carl? I took him over to the Green Tiger booth and explained about Good Dog Carl.
"Several booksellers and publishers had to intercede for the actors dressed up in crazy costumes as we all went through the security scanning process. The security guards did not understand that the Bridge Publications/Scientology guys always had folks dress up as soldiers with grenades, Native Americans with knives, cowboys with guns (all fake)--and that they weren't some kind of terrorists.
"I remember mostly laughing about the threats--but I also remember being nervous standing in the Penguin booth for too long."