“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

–Salman Rushdie

 On this day in history in 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader, issued a fatwa against the author Salman Rushdie and offered a reward of $3 million to anyone who killed him. This controversy was known as the Satanic Verses controversy. Rushdie, a British-Indian author, wrote a book called Satanic verses inspired by Muhammad’s life. It sparked a lot of outrage as Rushdie was said to have committed blasphemy. This resulted in multiple fatwas being issued against the author, as he faced attempted killings and numerous other violent threats.

While Rushdie attempted to write about religion and revelation from the point of view of a secular person, his writing ended up igniting a clash of race, religion and identity that enveloped the Muslim world at large. This was such a significant controversy, that another author declared it as “one of the most significant events in postwar literary history.”

As a result of these events, Rushdie went into hiding for over a decade while bookshops were set on fire and publishers murdered. However, Rushdie’s critics lost the wat as the Satanic Verses continued to be published. The Rushdie controversy was the first introduction of identity politics in our current times. It allowed Muslims to relate to a distinct identity, which was not present abroad.