Outrage at Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's call for Moslems to kill novelist Salman Rushdie spread, with authors, an international press institute and President Bush all declaring it an insult to the civilized world.
Wednesday, in an indication of possible domestic objection to Khomeini's order, the 88-year-old fundamentalist patriarch vowed not to let the Islamic Republic's government "fall into the hands of the liberals."Iranian leaders who have begun courting the West are "not totally with us in ideology," Tehran Radio quoted him as saying. Khomeini did not name names.
Literary figures including American authors Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag and William Styron expressed indignation at Khomeini's threat and at decisions not to publish or sell Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses."
"It isn't censorship we're taking about. It's fear and terrorism. It's the example that was set," Mailer said Tuesday night. "I think it was shameful for a major book chain to pull a book because of succumbing to threats."
Major U.S. bookselling chains such as Waldenbooks, B. Dalton and Barnes & Noble and booksellers in Japan have withdrawn the book from their shelves, citing threats.
That has left only independent bookstores to continue to stock the novel that many Moslems consider sacrilegious.
Despite the controversy, the book will debut as No. 2 on The New York Times Book Review's best-selling hardcover fiction list in the March 5 issue, the Times said Wednesday.
The paper ran a full-page ad by the Association of American Publishers, the American Booksellers Assocation and the American Library Association that says: "Free people write books, free people publish books, free people buy books, free people read books."
"I think the best form of protest is to patronize those who are selling the book and to remember the places that have failed to make accessible to us the works that are forbidden by terrorists," said historian Daniel Boorstin, a former Librarian of Congress. He and Mailer spoke on ABC-TV's "Nightline" show.
Publishers in France, West Germany, Greece and Turkey have canceled plans to publish the book, whose author was born a Moslem in India and is a naturalized British citizen. "The Satanic Verses" has been banned by at least seven countries, including India, Pakistan and Egypt.
No matter how offensive Rushdie's book may be to Moslems, "inciting murder and offering rewards for its perpetration are deeply offensive to the norms of civilized behavior," Bush said Tuesday.
Khomeini issued the death decree - which also applies to the book's publishers - eight days ago and Iranian clerics offered up to $5.2 million in bounties for Rushdie's death.
In London, the 2,000-member International Press Institute deplored the threats as "a gross violation of civilized standards on the right of life and the right to freedom of expression."
In Ottawa, Foreign Minister Joe Clark said Tuesday that Canada was withdrawing its charge d'affaires from Tehran for consultations.
Revenue Minister Otto Jelinek, who made the decision not to ban "The Satanic Verses" in Canada, said he was under police guard after receiving death threats.
Iran recalled its ambassadors from European Common Market nations on Tuesday in response to Monday's decision by the 12-member European Economic Community to withdraw their envoys from Tehran for consultations.
Sweden and Norway followed suit, recalling their ambassadors.
Britain on Monday recalled its entire embassy staff and on Tuesday announced it was expelling the Iranian charge d'affaires and his aide.
Wednesday in London, British charges d'affaires Nicholas Browne returned home from Iran with two other top diplomats and said: "The statements by Ayatollah Khomeini have given us no choice but to leave Tehran."
Many Moslems say "The Satanic Verses" is sacrilegious because it casts doubt on central tenets of the Islamic faith. The book, for example, portrays the prophet Mohammed's wives as prostitutes and suggests he wrote the Koran, the holy book of Islam, rather than receiving it from God.