The Aug. 12 attack on author Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed multiple times at a literary event in New York, is a major defeat for the West. To see Rushdie, after decades in hiding, assaulted by a worshipper of the Islamic republic of Iran and its murderous ayatollahs is a shame for which we are collectively responsible.
The fatwa issued by former Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989, which required Muslim believers to kill Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, is directly responsible for the attack. Yet U.S. President Joe Biden went so far as to omit any mention of Iran in his condemnation of the attack, which was in keeping with decades of moral cowardice.
For years, the leaders of a member state of the United Nations openly declared their contempt for freedom of expression and threatened to murder a writer for exercising his inalienable right to free speech. The failure of the West to prevent the attack or impose any consequences on Iran for its bloodthirsty policy is a reprehensible failure to stand up for our most basic values.
Over the years, there have been various attempts to claim that Iran had stepped back from its murderous fatwa, but the Islamic republic never rescinded it. Instead, it “reduced” it to a mere religious option, and the British and German governments congratulated themselves for their successful “mediation” on the issue.
Rushdie himself wanted to believe he was safe, and emerged from hiding. But the reward offered for his death—ostensibly provided by a “private” foundation—grew to $3 million. Appallingly, an organization of pious students collected another $300,000 to make the fatwa even more attractive to potential assassins. The overwhelming majority of the Iranian parliament voted to keep the fatwa in force and its members often declared the death sentence forever valid.
The truth, and the lesson we must learn, is that Islam is a religion with a long memory, especially when it comes to attacking its “enemies.” It is serious when it declares its murderous intentions, and will not deviate from them for years, decades and centuries. Islam is not in a hurry. It wants to win.
There are many examples of Islamists’ determination to murder anyone who “offends” their religion. For example, the killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, who dared to make a documentary about violence against women in Muslim societies, and the horrific massacre of the staff of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
And we should remember that when Iran threatens to obliterate Israel, it is not exaggerating. It really means it. It backs up its threats by funding Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, using them to kill as many Jews as possible, and by pursuing a nuclear weapon in order to “wipe Israel off the map.” We know Iran does these things, despite the enormous economic and military cost. Yet we do nothing. Worse still, even as Rushdie lies in his hospital bed, we continue talking with Iran in Vienna, and stand to hand over billions of dollars that it will use to finance its murderous endeavors.
These endeavors are not confined to seeking Rushdie’s death. Recently, Iran reportedly attempted to assassinate former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and Israeli tourists in Turkey were quickly repatriated or locked in hotels as they were sought by a death squad of Iranian terrorists. All of this has been done solely to avenge Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top terrorist, who was executed by the U.S. in 2020. Iran has a long memory. We must have one too.
Historians of the Middle East Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami have written about how Islam, after the dazzling success of its imperialist conquest of the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe, has never been able to accept the series of humiliations and defeats it suffered in the centuries that followed. It does not consider these defeats a successful defense against the violence it committed against others, but as intolerable offenses that must be avenged.
Iran, more than any other Islamic country today, has taken on the role of avenger. It threatens the West with its terrorist Quds Force, its various proxies and a legion of hidden assassins who will upend the world if we do not stop them. The attack on Rushdie was part and parcel of this campaign of terror and intimidation.
The longer we bow our heads and do nothing against Iran and its atrocities, the more Iran will be emboldened and turn to new and more ominous ambitions.
Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.