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BBC Television Program Defends Rushdie Despite Church Objection

August 1, 1989

LONDON (AP) _ The British Broadcasting Corp. presented a television program Monday about Salman Rushdie’s novel ″The Satanic Verses″ despite a Church of England objection that it might offend Moslems.

″The Blasphemers’ Banquet,″ a 40-minute play shown on the BBC national network, had actors portraying historical blasphemers around a restaurant table in northern Bradford reciting their writings. Portrayed were Voltaire, Moliere, Omar Khayyam and Lord Byron, but Rushdie’s chair was empty.

Moslem religious authorities consider Rushdie’s novel blasphemous to Islam. The author has been in hiding since the late Iranian spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, urged Moslems to kill him.

Some of the 60,000 Moslems in Bradford were among the first to burn copies of the novel in January.

The BBC said Monday it wrote to Archbishop Robert Runcie, spiritual head of the state Church of England, saying the ″sensibilities surrounding the program had been considered carefully within the BBC and a great deal of advice had been sought on its content from both within and outside the BBC.″

John Lyttle, Runcie’s public affairs secretary, said he wrote last week on behalf of the archbishop to BBC director-general Michael Checkland expressing concern about the program’s possible effect on Moslems in Britain.

Lyttle said Rushdie denied any intention of blaspheming Islam and reforms in Iran since Khomeini’s death made it the wrong moment to attack Iranian fundamentalism.

Neither he nor the archbishop had seen the program and their objections were based on advance information, Lyttle said.

″We want to resolve the Rushdie problem, not inflame it,″ he said.

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