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URGENT Rushdie Apologizes To Moslems, Iran Indicates It’s Not Enough

February 18, 1989 GMT

LONDON (AP) _ Author Salman Rushdie on Saturday apologized to Moslems angered by his novel ″The Satanic Verses,″ but Iran indicated his words were not enough to win him a reprieve from a death sentence ordered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency initially rejected the apology, then appeared to accept it, and finally disclaimed the latter report, saying it was the personal opinion of a copy writer.

In a brief statement, the 41-year-old Indian-born British writer, now in hiding, said: ″As author of ‘The Satanic Verses’ I recognize that Moslems in many parts of the world are genuinely distressed by the publication of my novel.

″I profoundly regret the distress that publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam.

″Living as we do in a world of many faiths this experience has served to remind us that we must all be conscious of the sensibilities of others.″

Some Moslems in Britain welcomed Rushdie’s apology but others were unmoved. Reaction by British government officials was mixed.

Rushdie, who was born into a Moslem family, was sentenced to death by Khomeini, who said his novel is insulting to Islam. Iranian leaders have offered a bounty of $5.2 million for his death.

On Friday, Iranian President Ali Khameini said the death sentence might be revoked if Rushdie publicly repented.

IRNA said the apology ″made no indication of his repentance or that his slanderous book would be withdrawn.″ It said his statement fell ″well short of″ repentance.

Later, the news agency issued another report saying: ″The statement, though far too short of a repentance, is generally seen as sufficient enough to warrant his pardon by the masses in Iran and elsewhere in the world.″

Two hours later, IRNA asked editors to note that the most recent report was ″in fact the personal observation of the copy writer and that it does not allow for any specific interpretation whatsoever.″

Moslems say ″The Satanic Verses″ blasphemes their religion, portraying the prophet Mohammed’s wives as prostitutes and suggesting that he wrote the Koran, the holy book of Islam, rather than receiving it from God.

The United States, Britain, Spain and West Germany have condemned the campaign against Rushdie, who says his book is fictional and not intended to offend anyone.

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In the United States, major booksellers including B. Dalton and Barnes & Nobel removed the novel from shelves.

″The Satanic Verses″ went on sale Friday night in Italy and was reported selling out Saturday at bookstores guarded by police.

The Liberals, a tiny party in Italy’s government, said they were sending a copy of Voltaire’s tract ″On Tolerance″ to the Iranian Embassy in Rome.

The Islamic Society for the Promotion of Religious Tolerance said it welcomed Mr. Rushdie’s apology and hoped that ″it will now pave the way out of this unfortunate crisis.″

But leaders of the Islamic community in Bradford, the scene of demonstrations and a public book-burning, rejected the apology.

After an emergency meeting, Bradford’s Council for Mosques, which represents more than 60,000 Moslems, said it would continue its campaign against ″The Satanic Verses″ until the publishers withdraw the book from circulation.

″The council views the statement of the author as being not a sincere apology, but a further insult to the Moslem community as a whole,″ it said.

Viking Penguin, the publisher in the United States and Britain, has expressed regret for any distress caused by the publication but has not said it will withdraw the book.

Rushdie’s agent Gillon Aitken released the statement after the author met with Viking Penguin officials. The statement was shown to the Foreign Office and then issued to the British media and IRNA.

A Foreign Office spokesman, who by custom was not identified, said: ″The statement is, of course, a matter for Mr. Rushdie and not for the government. But if it serves to calm passions, then that can only be a good thing.″

Britain has frozen its low-level relations with Iran and told Tehran that Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s execution was ″totally unacceptable.″

The Times of London reported Saturday quoted ″a closely involved source″ as saying Khomeini’s son Ahmad and three hard-line ministers may have persuaded the 88-year-old spiritual leader to make the death call to undermine a political rival seeking improved relations with Britain.

The report said supporters of Iran’s parliament speaker, Hashemi Rafsanjani, believe Khomeini’s son and the government ministers hoped the death call would deal a blow to British relations and Rafsanjani.

Conservative Party lawmaker Peter Temple-Morris, secretary of the Anglo- Iranian Parliamentary Group, said he hoped Moslems would realize Rushdie’s sincerity in apologizing.

But fellow Conservative Terry Dicks accused the British government of being ″weak-kneed, lily-livered and yellow.″ ″We should have told the ayatollah that one move towards Rushdie and we would bomb Tehran out of existence,″ he said.

″The Satanic Verses″ is officially banned in Iran, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt and South Africa. Publishers in France, West Germany, Greece and Turkey have decided not to publish the book.