Iran has threatened to boycott 2015's Frankfurt Book Fair taking place next week (14th-18th October), due to organisers’ selection of Salman Rushdie as a keynote speaker.
Rushdie is due to give the address at an opening press conference for FBF next Tuesday (13th October) on the subject of the significance of freedom of expression for authors and the book industry. However, Iran's deputy minister for culture and Islamic guidance, Seyed Abbas Salehi, has called on FBF to cancel the speech saying the event is "anti-cultural," according to The Guardian.
Rushdie was made the subject of a fatwa in 1989 - a religious death warrant ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie - that was issued by Iran’s former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, over Rushdie's depiction of the prophet Muhammad in his controversial 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. His successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, confirmed in 2005 that the fatwa still stands.
According to local news agencies, Seyed Abbas Salehi, Iran's deputy minister for culture and Islamic guidance, has urged FBF organisers to cancel Rushdie's speech and threatened to boycott the fair if they don't.
He said: “This has been organised by the Frankfurt book fair and crosses one of our political system’s red lines. We consider this move as anti-cultural. Imam Khomeini’s fatwa on this issue is reflective of our religion and it will never fade away. We urge organisers to cancel his address.”
Frankfurt Book Fair has explained its rationale for the controversial choice in speaker on its website, saying: "His biography and literary work give him an influential voice in the worldwide debate about freedom of expression in publishing. The publication of polemic literature and its consequences affect not just authors but the entire publishing industry. That’s why freedom of expression and boundaries are key topics at this year’s book fair."
Last year, 282 Iranian publishers attended FBF, displaying more than 1,200 titles.
Salehi told the ISNA news agency yesterday: "When we learned of the presence of Salman Rushdie at the book fair in Frankfurt, we sent a letter of protest and called on other Muslim countries to do the same.
"In the coming days, we will try to convince the leaders of the fair to change their mind." He added: "We will seriously consider not participating."
Rushdie's appearance at the Frankfurt Book Fair will coincide with the publication of his new book, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (Jonathan Cape). The novel is a modern fairy tale about the struggle between the worlds and the tension between faith and reason.