Aug 16, 2022
Salman Rushdie: The 60 Minutes Interview (1990) Transcript
In 1990, Mike Wallace spoke with “The Satanic Verses” author, who was marked for death by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Read the transcript here.
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Speaker 1: (00:01)
60 Minutes Rewind.
Mike Wallace: (00:05)
Our first story is about a man who is still trying to dodge a bullet. His name is Salman Rushdie and he was marked for death 20 months ago by the Ayatollah Khomeini who declared Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses an affront to Islam. Rushdie, who comes from a Muslim family himself, went into hiding.
Mike Wallace: (00:24)
Somewhere in London, no one but Scotland Yard knows exactly where, Rushdie holds up in a series of flats, moving to another location every time Scotland Yard’s special branch thinks it prudent that he do so. No one sees him, but the police who guard him day and night somewhere not far from these famous London landmarks. The only way we could get to see him was to be taken to a secret location, which turned out not to be one of his hiding places, but a policeman’s club on the outskirts of London. What are your days like?
Salman Rushdie: (00:58)
Well, it’s difficult just to answer really because there’s not such a thing as a typical day in a situation in which one frequently or infrequently has to move, changes. But by and large, I try and create a day which is like the ordinary working day of a writer as I can. I mean, after all, writers are people who sit alone in rooms.
Mike Wallace: (01:19)
But at the end of the day?
Salman Rushdie: (01:21)
At the end of the day, well …
Mike Wallace: (01:22)
That’s when you go out and you have a drink and you sit with friends and you go to dinner and …
Salman Rushdie: (01:28)
Yeah, well, no, I don’t do that.
Mike Wallace: (01:30)
You go to the tele and …
Salman Rushdie: (01:31)
I go to the television, and I play chess against the chess computer, and I telephone people, and I write letters. I do what you do when you sit alone when you’re isolated and I get through it.
Mike Wallace: (01:48)
In a strange way, you’re a hostage.
Salman Rushdie: (01:52)
Yeah. I mean, I …
Mike Wallace: (01:54)
I mean, it’s not Terry Waite or Terry Anderson.
Salman Rushdie: (01:56)
No, I mean, nobody’s chaining me to a radiator.
Mike Wallace: (01:58)
Salman Rushdie: (02:00)
But, yes, I mean, I don’t have certain fairly basic freedoms at present.
Mike Wallace: (02:06)
Have there been any bizarre experiences in your new life?
Salman Rushdie: (02:11)
No. I mean, one of the strange things about being at the eye of the storm is that it’s very still.
Mike Wallace: (02:18)
Yeah. And protected and insulated.
Salman Rushdie: (02:21)
Yeah, exactly. So it’s bizarre and has been disorienting and all those things. But you have to choose, I think, in the end, whether you’re going to get through something or not, and I decided I would.
Mike Wallace: (02:37)
This is what sent Rushdie underground, frenzied Muslims rioting and taking to the streets around the world, demanding vengeance for what they believe is the writer’s blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad and his family. When the Ayatollah escalated the drama with his death sentence, Rushdie hit back with his own challenge 20 months ago, in what turned out to be his last public statement before disappearing from view.
Salman Rushdie: (03:02)
And frankly, I wish I had written a more critical book. I mean, a religion that claims that is able to behave like this, religious leaders let’s say who are able to behave like this, and then say that this is a religion which must be above any kind of whisper of criticism, I mean, that doesn’t add up. It seems to me that Islamic fundamentalists could do with a little criticism right now.
Mike Wallace: (03:20)
You said, “Frankly, I wish I had written a more critical book.” What did you mean?
Salman Rushdie: (03:27)
I don’t know. I suppose that was bravado. What options you have in a situation like that? You can either jibber or you can say something …
Mike Wallace: (03:36)
Brave it out.
Salman Rushdie: (03:36)
Brave it out. I suppose, that’s always toughing it out. But it wasn’t a particularly accurate remark, I don’t think
Mike Wallace: (03:43)
You mean that you had no intention or you did not feel that you …
Salman Rushdie: (03:47)
I did not at that moment really wish I’d written a more critical book, no.
Mike Wallace: (03:50)
I can imagine. It was a very different Salman Rushdie we encountered, different from this proud defiant author 20 months ago, very much enjoying his literary recognition as he boldly read mocking passages about the Ayatollah from his Satanic Verses on British television.
Salman Rushdie: (04:09)
What is first uttered in the impotence of an overheated apartment becomes the fate of nations. Who has not dreamed this dream, of being a king for a day? But the Imam dreams of more than a day; feels, emanating from his fingertips, the arachnid strings with which he will control the movement of history.
Mike Wallace: (04:31)
Given the nature of the Ayatollah’s following and the promise of paradise to any of the faithful who execute the writer, we were struck by Rushdie’s determined optimism about his ability to work out a reconciliation with Islam.
Salman Rushdie: (04:46)
It’s been 20 months just about, yes. And I mean, I have to hope that the atmosphere is gradually changing. I think there’s various sort of signs that it might be.
Mike Wallace: (04:56)
Where do you get those signs?
Salman Rushdie: (04:57)
Oh, just in the air. And it seems to me that in this country, I don’t believe that there are very many people actually who are seriously interested in doing me any harm. I don’t believe that so in the United States either. I think most Muslims, like most people, are pretty reasonable. Actually, the world contains very few blood thirsty people.
Mike Wallace: (05:20)
It was hard passing on this next piece of information to Rushdie. But just two days before in Tehran, I had asked Rajai Khorasani, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Iranian Parliament if he could foresee the lifting of the death sentence.
Rajai Khorasani: (05:35)
It is not going to be lifted. It cannot be lifted.
Mike Wallace: (05:38)
Rajai Khorasani: (05:39)
Because it is a religious fact which remains there forever.
Mike Wallace: (05:43)
And there is nothing that Salman Rushdie can do?
Rajai Khorasani: (05:46)
We just don’t want … We don’t care whether he can do something or not. It’s not our business. There are plenty of people who are doing wrong things, we don’t care about them. We don’t make any attempt to solve their personal problems. It is his personal problem.
Mike Wallace: (06:01)
And there’s no apology? There is no amend?
Rajai Khorasani: (06:02)
No. No, it’s wrong to speak of an apology. And it is a lesson to many other Muslims who should simply think of what they want to say before they say it.
Mike Wallace: (06:16)
We ask Rushdie about the passages from his Satanic Verses that have so outraged, Muslim fundamentalists. Yes, but Muhammad backsliding his wives in brothels.
Salman Rushdie: (06:28)
Well, it’s, of course, not his wives in brothels. I mean, let’s be accurate about this. It’s not his wives in brothels.
Mike Wallace: (06:32)
What is it?
Salman Rushdie: (06:33)
There is a brothel in the imaginary city in which the prostitutes take the names of the prophets’ wives. Meanwhile, it is quite clearly stated the prophets’ wives are somewhere else being perfectly well behaved.
Mike Wallace: (06:43)
Yes. But it’s in the eye of the reader. It’s in the eye of the beholder. And if you are a faithful Muslim …
Salman Rushdie: (06:49)
Yeah, but let’s be accurate at least about what it is, if I’m accused of calling-
Mike Wallace: (06:52)
About your intention?
Salman Rushdie: (06:53)
Yeah. But also if I’m accused of calling the prophets’ wives whores, I didn’t do it.
Mike Wallace: (06:58)
What is there in Islam that has made it such a horror for you?
Salman Rushdie: (07:05)
Well, I don’t think it’s anything in Islam, and I don’t think of Islam as a horror for me either. My entire family are Muslims. Many of my friends are Muslims. I mean, Muslims are no more or less horrifying than any other group of people on the planet. I don’t think it’s anything in Islam that’s created this, so then what created this was a specific event in one country.
Mike Wallace: (07:24)
But there is something in Islam that makes the man who gets your head a reward. Forget the monetary award, one hears anywhere from two to $5 million for your head, but a reward beyond that, a spiritual reward.
Salman Rushdie: (07:39)
I doubt that you’d find a lot of Muslims who’d think like that. I mean, really. Yeah. I mean, go out on the street and ask him.
Mike Wallace: (07:47)
We did, right there in London.
Speaker 5: (07:48)
Even today, unless he withdraws the book, he is in grave danger, anywhere in the world, not just here, anywhere in world.
Speaker 6: (07:59)
According to the the fatwā, he should be executed.
Speaker 7: (08:02)
As long as the book is in circulation, in whichever form, and he refuses to withdraw it, his apology in fact is an insult. It’s not an apology.
Mike Wallace: (08:14)
I mean, it’s not just the nuts.
Salman Rushdie: (08:15)
No, no. I mean, I know that, and what am I supposed to do about it? I am not an enemy of Muslims because after all, they’re my own people. My family are Muslims. And given that, trying to explain the fact that I’m not this kind of creature with horns and a tale that’s been painted, there is actually very little in The Satanic Verses that hasn’t been, in fact, quite commonplace discussion in the Muslim world for hundreds of years. There may be ways in which it’s done which have upset people. And as I say, I mean, I regret it. I’m sorry. But the point is, it’s there. And it is possible, I think to increase that degree of understanding and that’s what I’d like to do.
Speaker 1: (08:57)
The story will continue after this.
Mike Wallace: (09:04)
Meanwhile, the controversy that the Ayatollah unleashed has turned Rushdie’s novel into a best-seller. Already reported 1.1 million hardcover sales with the paperback yet to come.
Salman Rushdie: (09:15)
Well, so what, I’m supposed to be pleased? I mean, I would very happily exchange my old level of sales and my old life for what you’ve just described as a success.
Mike Wallace: (09:31)
But a writer who lives with Scotland Yard as his only companion does not have that choice. Your son, how old is he?
Salman Rushdie: (09:39)
Mike Wallace: (09:40)
What do you tell your boy?
Salman Rushdie: (09:43)
Well, I try and tell him what’s happening. I mean, it’s …
Mike Wallace: (09:49)
And he must ask, “Dad, why do these people want to kill you?”
Salman Rushdie: (09:55)
I think we are getting into an area here, which I consider to be a private matter between me and him. And I have tried and I have … It’s that long distance, but I have tried to keep him informed as to what’s going on. And I think that helps him, I hope, to handle it.
Mike Wallace: (10:14)
And Marianne Wiggins, your wife, is that over?
Salman Rushdie: (10:17)
Yes, that’s over.
Mike Wallace: (10:19)
What do you do for companionship? Do you have to live a celibate life? I mean, I hate to ask the question, but I’m sure …
Salman Rushdie: (10:28)
Everybody wants to know.
Mike Wallace: (10:29)
Salman Rushdie: (10:30)
It’s nice to have a break. No, I’m not being serious. Yes, is the answer.
Mike Wallace: (10:35)
What is your future?
Salman Rushdie: (10:37)
I don’t know. I don’t think in the long-term at the moment. My future is to go on writing books, I hope.
Mike Wallace: (10:42)
And remarkably, in spite of all, Rushdie has just completed his first book from exile, a children’s book for his son, Haroun.
Salman Rushdie: (10:50)
Mike Wallace: (10:51)
It’s a beautiful book.
Salman Rushdie: (10:53)
Well, I hope so.
Mike Wallace: (10:53)
No, it’s a beautiful book. There are three characters in this book that I particularly enjoy, I guess if that’s the word. There is the engaging youngster, who is your son.
Salman Rushdie: (11:06)
Mike Wallace: (11:06)
There is you.
Salman Rushdie: (11:10)
Well, there’s a storyteller. Yeah.
Mike Wallace: (11:13)
That’s the storyteller. That’s Salman Rushdie. And there is the prince of silence, and by God, that is the Imam Khomeini.
Salman Rushdie: (11:22)
Well, I’d resist that reading completely.
Mike Wallace: (11:24)
He is the prince of silence and he tries to keep the storyteller from telling his stories.
Salman Rushdie: (11:31)
That’s right. Well, the book is a dramatization of all sorts of things. I mean, it’s a war between language and silence, which after all is an old literary project, and it’s a war between light and dark. So it’s a fable about things quite other than Salman Rushdie and Imam Khomeini
Mike Wallace: (11:50)
I confess, I opened Haroun, and went, “a children’s book,” and suddenly discovered it’s also an adults book. And I wondered if the Imam had conceivably tamed you. He has not.
Salman Rushdie: (12:04)
I don’t know. I mean, if I felt that I couldn’t write as myself, I would stop writing because I value the art of writing too much to do it when I’m censoring myself. If that had happened to me, I would put down my pen and not write again. I have to believe that it hasn’t happened to me, but it’s for other people to judge.
Mike Wallace: (12:29)
Salman Rushdie: (12:30)