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Satanic Tactics

June 22, 2007

Outrage over the decision to honor author Salman Rushdie with a knighthood has been orchestrated to distract the public from other political problems in Iran and Pakistan, writes DW's Peter Philipp.


Only the narrow-minded would interpret the manifestations of open irritation and public outrage in the streets of Tehran and Islamabad as the actual expression of the public's mood. They are not. They are rather a finely orchestrated means for the authorities to serve a purpose.

To achieve their political goals or to distract from their own problems, the "security aware" -- some may say "repressive" -- regimes allow such demonstrations: against the insulting Mohammed caricatures in Denmark, against alleged desecration of the Koran somewhere in the world or, as is currently the case, against the distinction being paid by the queen to British author Salman Rushdie.

Fernschreiber Autorenfoto, Peter Philipp

How many demonstrators in front of the British embassies in Tehran and Islamabad today even knew who Rushdie was 14 days ago? How many may have actually read the "Satanic Verses," the book that garnered Rushdie the anger of Islamic extremists? Probably none. But that's not really the point.

In 1989, the Iranian revolutionary leader Khomeini issued a fatwa against then unknown Rushdie, and Iran put a price on the author's head. For 10 years Rushdie had to go underground and live under police surveillance until Tehran admitted that while the now deceased Khomeini's fatwa could not be revoked, it did not need to be implemented. Rushdie's life could once again return to normal.

Now that new demonstrations are being aimed at the author, it's certainly not because of the "Satanic Verses." He is, after all, being recognized for his life's work, not a single book. But Iranian and Pakistani officials describe the knighthood as a new insult to one and half billion Muslims. And the Pakistani religion minister raised the bar with the threat of a suicide attack to avenge this unfriendly act on the part of the British royal family.

As if that's not an insult against all well-meaning people around the world, regardless of their religion, skin color or language. Such statements are a slap in the face to anyone who works for understanding and freedom -- especially between cultures. That includes Muslims who believe in their religion's true messages of freedom and understanding.

The abuse of religious sentiment for political means is not a new tactic. But in the case of Iran, one had hoped that things had changed. And one even believed that they had in the case of Pakistan, a country that is an important partner in the "fight against terror."

In both cases the people are being thoughtlessly manipulated as a way of distraction from foreign and domestic problems, and the unforeseen consequences are being accepted. In the end, it's an easy call to make: The culprit has already been decided, and if anyone gets hurt during protests then the West will be responsible for that, too. What satanic tactics.

Peter Philipp is a Middle East expert and Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent (sms)