In late 1996, Indian-born author Salman Rushdie was due to visit Copenhagen but the prime minister at the time, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (Socialdemokraterne), initially canceled the visit due to security reasons.
Rasmussen’s decision was lambasted by Rushdie and others for being fabricated in order to protect a lucrative Danish feta-cheese export deal to Iran, which had issued a fatwa on Rushdie for his book 'Satanic Verses'. Rasmussen's cancellation was contradicted by British intelligence, which informed the author that there was not a threat.
It was all seen as a massive political blunder by Rasmussen, who was forced to publicly apologise to Rushdie and re-invite the author back to Copenhagen, which Rushdie visited a few months later, humiliating Rasmussen by appearing in bar dressed in a Christmas ‘nisse’ hat, drinking beer in public and clearly unconcerned by any security risk.
But, according to Rushdie's new memoirs, ‘Joseph Anton’, British intelligence later told him that there was indeed a specific threat in Copenhagen, but that they couldn’t tell him at the time in order to protect a source.
In November of 1996, Rasmussen explained that his decision to not allow Rushdie into the country was purely due to security concerns.
“The reason was a threat assessment. There were such large security risks associated with the arrangement, for Salman Rushdie and for the entire event, that it would be irresponsible to have the event go ahead as planned,” Rasmussen told parliament. “Therefore, I would like to once again confirm my belief that the government took the necessary steps that were correct and responsible.”
While Rushdie’s new memoirs offers vindication for Rasmussen and his actions in 1996, they could very easily be used by Islamists to further incite the trouble created by the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, according to Mikael Rothstein, a historian at the University of Copenhagen.
“For most Muslims, it won’t be worth a thought, but for the people that have decided to incite trouble, Rushdie’s text contains everything they could ever dream of,” Rothstein told public broadcaster DR.
Rushdie incurred the wrath of the Muslim world after the publishing of his 1988 novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’, which had references to the Islamic prophet Mohammed.
The following year, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a ‘fatwa’, a religious death sentence, against Rushdie which remains in effect today. The bounty for the death sentence continues to rise and cannot be annulled, according to religious law, as it can only be cancelled by the one who issued it and Khomeini died in 1989.
Salman Rushdie will be discussing his memoirs tonight on Deadline, aired on DR2 at 22:30.