Date: 14 January 1989
Event: Burning of Satanic Verses
The eighties decade was a very turbulent era for Bradford. The ousting of Drummond School headmaster Ray Honeyford, the Valley Parade fire and toward the end of the decade, the controversial public burning of the book, Satanic Verses.
Written by the British Indian novelist and essayist, Salman Rushdie, his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, was the centre of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989.
Before the fatwa was issued, the previous month, people gathered in the centre of Bradford to condemn the author and accuse him of blasphemy. This was also a watershed in the history of Britain’s Muslims – a moment when, for the first time, many united over what they saw as an attack on their faith. In fact, it wasn’t the first time a copy of Satanic Verses was burned in the UK: on December 2, 1988, 7,000 people gathered in Bolton, to burn the book. But as Daniel Pipes writes in his book, The Rushdie Affair: The Novel, the Ayatollah, and the West, “press coverage was virtually nil.” The protest in Bradford, became a major news story — in part, Pipes argues, because of the support that local non-Muslim politicians gave to the book’s detractors.
The protests against Rushdie and his book escalated dramatically afterward, culminating with Khomeini’s fatwa in February. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding then and would be under police protection for the next 10 years.
On September 24, 1998, the Iranian government announced that it would no longer pursue Rushdie or call for his death. “It looks like it’s over. It means everything, it means freedom,” Rushdie said at the time. The book would continue to cause problems for him, though. As recently as two years ago, Rushdie was forced to cancel his attendance at the Jaipur literature festival in India after Muslim clerics spoke out against his visit and assassination threats surfaced.