“Truth is a battle.” –Salman Rushdie
I thought it was one of my smart-ass buddies, calling to mess with me, after hearing about the fatwa. But the accent was sure consistent, and when I laughed (by this time maybe a little nervously) he used the same expletive Beto wielded with such authentic fluency at the town hall in Mineral Wells last week.* The caller then told me that a bomb would destroy our store if we kept selling the book. He didn’t have to tell me the title; I knew he was talking about The Satanic Verses.
Until then, the fatwa was just a story I’d heard about on the news. We weren’t the only store that got calls like that, and the day after ours, we got a message from the Home Office telling us to remove all copies from the sales floor and keep them in the back room. My fellow managers in San Antonio agreed that we should not live on our knees, but it was important to notify the staff about the call and let them participate in the decision process. Our little group was unanimous in being offended by threats, so we kept the book in the window and sold it steadily.
Twenty-two years later, I had an opportunity to address Sir Salman directly during the Q&A of his talk at Trinity University. I explained that the store I managed during the fatwa was no bastion for the intelligentsia, and that, had it not been for the threats, we might’ve sold four copies of The Satanic Verses. I expressed regret that he was so extraordinarily inconvenienced, forced into hiding for ten years and all, but thanked him for such an effective promotion.
The 24 year old who attacked Sir Salman this week was not yet born when the fatwa was originally issued, and a toddler ten years later, when it was scaled back as part of Iran’s efforts to rejoin the CEC (Civilized Earthlings Club). It’s probably useless to clue him in to the fact that he has just played a small part in one of the greatest guerilla marketing campaigns in the history of the book business.
(The whole town hall is worth watching, and my favorite thing about it is that he DOES NOT drop the mic–he continues with substance and style.)