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World - Europe

Rushdie: 'It's been a fight about free speech'

After spending the last nine years under police protection, Rushdie speaks about his new freedom Friday in London

Also: Rushdie plans to write about life under Iran's death threat

September 25, 1998
Web posted at: 3:51 p.m. EDT (1951 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- With his life no longer in serious danger for the first time in nine years, writer Salman Rushdie said Friday he's glad the cloud of doom has been lifted and that his fight for free speech prevailed.

"Overall what I felt was a terrible cloud, first of all of misunderstanding, of actual lies and also fear came to surround me, and I've been trying to dispel that over the last nine years," Rushdie told CNN's Tom Mintier in an interview the day after Iran said it would not carry out its threat to kill Rushdie. (Audio AIFF or WAV sound)

"And, I think one of the best feelings for me today is that finally that cloud is not there."

Rushdie has lived under the death threat, or fatwa, since 1989, when the Ayatollah Khomeni, then Iran's supreme leader, called on Iranians to kill Rushdie for blaspheming Islam in his book "The Satanic Verses."

CNN's interview with Rushdie Friday
Windows Media 28K 56K

The threat against his life eased significantly on Thursday, when Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said his country would not try to kill Rushdie, and that Iran did not support the $2.5 million bounty on the author, offered by a foundation linked to Iran's government.

Rushdie told CNN his lengthy ordeal has been a "serious and grave matter with terrible consequences on both sides." But, he added, he now feels deep satisfaction for successfully battling for his beliefs and the freedom that should accompany his craft. (Audio AIFF or WAV sound)

"The book is not the crime. The fatwa was the crime," Rushdie said. "It is perfectly legitimate to write novels which are contentious and which are radical in their reevaluations of the world. That's what artists are for.

"So, this has been a fight about free speech. It's been a fight about freedom of the imagination. It's been a fight about the art of the novel," he said.

Rushdie: 'Happy to say' he's not Muslim

Earlier Friday, Ruhsdie thanked the British government for its role in negotiating a deal with Iran, and he thanked Iran for taking such a bold and potentially unpopular step.

Satanic Verses

At a news conference in London, Rushdie told reporters he would neither ask for nor offer apologies for the controversy surrounding his novel.

"I could ask for apologies. I've had 10 years of my life deformed by this. I've had friends of mine threatened, I've had my family frightened, messed around with, I've had people that I care about shot and killed. I could ask for apologies. I'm not doing so. I think all that's nonsense. I would say get over it."

Rushdie said he had no regrets about writing "The Satanic Verses" and that it was an important piece in his body of work.

The writer did say he was "sorrowful for all the people who have died in demonstrations against" the book and for attacks on those who aided him in his work.

He also said he was particularly hurt when his native India banned the work and turned its back on him.

Rushdie also confessed that he lied in 1990 when he declared he had embraced Islam. The lie was told in hopes that Iran would rescind the fatwa, he said.

Asked if he is a Muslim now, Rushdie, who was raised in an Islamic family, said: "I am happy to say that I am not."

Since 1989, some 20 Iranians have been expelled from Britain for trying to kill him, he said.

Rushdie told Mintier that the British government has assured him categorically that Iran won't follow through on Khomeni's pledge to kill him.

London Bureau Chief Tom Mintier, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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