Whatever happens to author Salman Rushdie -- the writer placed under a death sentence by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini for offending Islam -- his book "The Satanic Verses" won't go away, say University of Utah professors.

The book and its author were the topic of a panel discussion Monday at the Hinckley Institute of Politics.John Francis, chairman of the political science department, said the book, with its use of surrealism, reads much like contemporary Latin American novels or certain anti-Stalinist Russian novels of the 1920's and '30s.

"As literature it has definite merit. The author is extremely gifted," said Bernard Weiss, associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies. "However, as a book about Islam or as a book that touches on Islam and Moslems it is clearly scandalous from a Moslem perspective."

Weiss said the book differs from the book and film, "The Last Temptation of Christ," which offended many Christians, because, while some Christians approved of "Last Temptation," virtually no Moslems who take their faith seriously have failed to be offended by "Satanic Verses."

The book itself is not the most critical ever written about Islam, Francis said. Many scholars have written academic tomes far more devastating in their implications.

But Rushdie, who was reared in Islam, left the faith. Thus, he is viewed by many Moslems as an apostate, even a traitor, a Benedict Arnold, Weiss said.

His volume also contains some pointedly unflattering allusions to Khomeni himself, said Lee Bean, director of the U.'s Middle East Center.

Not all Moslems or scholars of Islamic law, however, agree with the ayatollah's pronouncement of a death sentence, Weiss said.

Bean pointed out that the Islamic world is huge and diverse, and such countries as Morocco and Egypt have not called for Rushdie's death.

Michael Mazzaoui, associate professor of Middle East history, said that despite the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism in many countries in recent years -- which he described as a search for identity following the foreign occupations of the 19th century -- "The people in the Islamic world are essentially secular people, even though they believe in their religious faith."