Iranian Satanic Panic: Salman Rushdie, The Assassin And The Fatwa

The history of knife wielding assassins, from medieval times to Salman Rushdie's attack.



We're talking about the attempted killing of Salman Rushdie by Hadi Matar, a New Jersey man obsessed with the Ayatollah Khomeini's Fatwa issued to encourage Rushdie's assassination back in the 1980s after the publication of Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. This is a preview of a premium episode, please become a patron if you like our content, you'll get our two bonus episodes every month and our public episodes ad-free. 1

Fatwas are mostly pretty silly, there are only three recent ones dealing with a person: one in the 1990s was issued for secular Egyptian writer Farag Foda who was murdered in 1992, one was issued in the early 2000s urging the assassination of Libyan president Muhammar al-Gaddafi, and the third for Salman Rushdie in 1989. Rushdie lived with a permanent security presence away from the public eye for a decade due to the threat of violence against him.

The term assassin originated with Hassan as-Sabbah, an 11th century Shia revolutionary who seized Alamut castle and the surrounding region without killing soul... by disguising himself as a teacher and gaining the confidence of the castle's guards and diplomats while the ruler of the region was away. With co-conspirators in hand Hassan took control of the castle and founded both one of the medieval world's great libraries and centers of learning, as well as a school for hired killers. The word itself either came from the Persian word "eaters of hashish" or "hashashin" (because anyone who would kill a man who he had spent years befriending only to be killed by guards moments later must be high), or "hassa", the Arabic word for "killing a large population of people."

Whichever was the true origin, the prevalence of the word in English comes from Shakespeare, who also used the word in Macbeth to describe the act of killing a king for profit and ambition.

We finish by discussing a great article about the state of modern discourse by Kenan Malik printed in the Guardian in 2018, as well as quotes from Rushdie himself and the great fictionalized version of Hassan as-Sabbah's story written by Vladimir Bartol in 1938: the novel Alamut. 2, 3

Episode #DubiMeter = 8


1. Ray Sanchez, Adam Thomas, Kristina Sgueglia, Samantha Beech, Paul P. Murphy, and Lauren Said-Moorhouse. Authorities identify suspect who attacked author Salman Rushdie at western New York event. CNN. August 2022. 

2. Kenan Malik. The Satanic Verses sowed the seeds of rifts that have grown ever wider. The Guardian. September 2018. 

3. DJ Grothe. Salman Rushdie – Secular Values, Human Rights and Islamism. Point of Inquiry. October 2006. 

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