Pakistan says Rushdie knighthood may spark terrorism


ISLAMABAD (AFP). June 19, 2007. Pakistan demanded on Monday that Britain withdraw a knighthood awarded to author Salman Rushdie, as a government minister said the honour gave a justification for suicide attacks by Muslims.

Angry protesters in several cities torched British flags and beat them with their shoes in protest at the accolade for the Indian-born writer of "The Satanic Verses" and chanted "Death to Britain, death to Rushdie." Rushdie, 59, was forced to go into hiding for a decade after Iran`s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 issued a death sentence over his book "The Satanic Verses," claiming it insulted Islam. Iran has already accused British leaders of "Islamophobia" after Rushdie -- now Sir Salman -- was awarded the knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II on Saturday to mark her 81st birthday. "If somebody has to attack by strapping bombs to his body to protect the honour of the Prophet, then it is justified," Pakistani Religious Affairs Minister Ijaz-ul-Haq told the national assembly. The minister, the son of military dictator Zia-ul-Haq who died in a plane crash in 1988, later retracted his statement in parliament and said he meant to say that knighting Rushdie could spark terrorism. "I was explaining that if the British government awards a knighthood to Salman Rushdie -- whose only credibility is that he wrote a blasphemous book -- then such action with encourage extremism," he told AFP. "If someone blows himself up he will consider himself justified. How can we fight terrorism when those who commit blasphemy are rewarded by the West?" he said. He said Pakistan should sever diplomatic ties with Britain if it did not withdraw the award, adding: "We demand an apology by the British government. Their action has hurt the sentiments of 1.5 billion Muslims. The national assembly earlier unanimously passed a resolution condemning the knighthood given to Rushdie. "We demand that Britain should refrain from such acts which hurt the sentiments of Muslims and take back the title of Sir given to Rushdie," parliamentary affairs minister Sher Afgan said. The resolution added that the award would encourage "contempt" for the Prophet Mohammed. Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Tasnim Aslam warned that the British honour would harm efforts to promote understanding between Muslim nations and the West. "We deplore the decision of the British government to knight him. This, we feel, is insensitive and we would convey our sentiments to the British government," she added. Dozens of students from hardline Islamic schools in the central Pakistani city of Multan chanted "Death to Rushdie, death to Britain" and set a British flag on fire, witnesses said. They carried a banner saying "Our protest will continue until Britain withdraws the title." About the same number of protesters in the eastern cultural hub of Lahore used their shoes to pound burning British flags in a show of disrespect while in Karachi around 200 people rallied outside the mayor`s office. Islamist leaders called for nationwide protests after Friday prayers. Five people died in the Pakistani capital Islamabad in 1989 in riots against Rushdie`s book. Pakistan is an Islamic republic, like neighbouring Iran, and its 160 million population is overwhelmingly Muslim. The British High Commission (embassy) in Islamabad defended the decision to bestow the knighthood on Rushdie. "Sir Salman`s honour is richly deserved and the reasons for it are self-explanatory," said spokesman Aidan Liddle. "This knighthood is a reflection of Salman Rushdie`s contribution to literature through a long and diverse career." Rushdie`s second novel, "Midnight`s Children," won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1981 and was named the best novel in 25 years of the prize in 1993. Rushdie is also a fellow of Britain`s Royal Society of Literature

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