In September of 1988, Salman Rushdie‘s fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, was published in the UK to both critical acclaim and immediate controversy. By February of 1989, following months of protests and death threats, his execution was ordered by way of a fatwā issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Rushdie was then put under police guard, and he went into hiding. The controversy continues to this day.
In the early 1990s, as the furore raged, the following letter of support was written to Rushdie by novelist Norman Mailer.
Dear Salman Rushdie,
I have thought of you often over the last few years. Many of us begin writing with the inner temerity that if we keep searching for the most dangerous of our voices, why then, sooner or later we will outrage something fundamental in the world. and our lives will be in danger. That is what I thought when I started out, and so have many others, but you, however, are the only one of us who gave proof that this intimation was not ungrounded. Now you live what must me a living prison of contained paranoia, and the toughening of the will is imperative, no matter the cost to the poetry in yourself. It is no happy position for a serious and talented writer to become a living martyr. One does not need that. It is hard enough to write at one’s best without wearing a hundred pounds on one’s back each day, but such is your condition, and if I were a man who believed that prayer was productive of results, I might wish to send some sort of vigor and encouragement to you, for if you can transcend this situation, more difficult than any of us have known, if you can come up with a major piece of literary work, then you will rejuvenate all of us, and literature, to that degree, will flower.
So, my best to you, old man, wherever you are ensconced, and may the muses embrace you.