LONDON, (AP) – Britain told Pakistan on Tuesday that it was deeply concerned by a Pakistani minister’s statement that the knighthood honoring “Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie could justify suicide attacks.
Ambassador Robert Brinkley, Britain’s high commissioner to Pakistan, conveyed the message after Pakistan’s government summoned him to protest the knighthood.
“The high commissioner made clear the British government’s deep concern at what the minister for religious affairs was reported to have said. The British government is very clear that nothing can justify suicide bomb attacks,” the British Foreign Office said.
Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister, said Monday of Rushdie’s knighting that: “The West is accusing Muslims of extremism and terrorism. If someone exploded a bomb on his body he would be right to do so unless the British government apologizes and withdraws the ‘sir’ title.”
Ul-Haq insisted Tuesday that he meant only that the award could be used as a justification for suicide attacks. Honoring the author of a “blasphemous book” could undermine interfaith harmony and damage Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism, he said.
In a second day of small-scale street protests, more than 100 supporters of various religious groups demonstrated in front of the press club in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. About two dozen followers of a Sunni Muslim group chanted “Hang Salman Rushdie,” while Shiite activists torched a British flag and chanted “Down with U.K.!”
In the southern city of Karachi, about two dozen supporters of a religious political party chanted “Death to Salman Rushdie!” and burned an effigy of the author.
Pakistan’s foreign minister told The Associated Press that Britain should not be surprised by the reaction.
Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, in Washington to meet with top administration officials and lawmakers, said Britain must have “found the reaction predictable. I don’t think they are surprised.”
Iran’s late supreme leader, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a 1989 fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie because “The Satanic Verses” insulted Islam.
The threat forced Rushdie, who lives in Britain, to live in hiding for a decade.
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said Brinkley was told that Rushdie was “a controversial figure who is known less for his literary contributions and more for his offensive and insulting writings which have deeply hurt the sentiments of Muslims all over the world.”
She said the award could “unnecessarily incite feelings” and was all the more surprising given Britain’s large Muslim population.
Brinkley on Monday defended the decision to honor Rushdie, one of the most prominent novelists of the late 20th century whose 13 books have won numerous awards, including the Booker Prize for “Midnight’s Children” in 1981.
Britain announced the knighthood on Saturday in an honors list timed for the official celebration of the queen’s 81st birthday.
An Islamic rebel group in Indian-controlled Kashmir condemned the knighthood Tuesday and called for a protest strike in the region.