RELIGION

A ‘blockbuster’ ban

Authorities revive the Salman Rushdie dispute

ANDREW PHILLIPS August 6 1990
RELIGION

A ‘blockbuster’ ban

Authorities revive the Salman Rushdie dispute

ANDREW PHILLIPS August 6 1990

A ‘blockbuster’ ban

RELIGION

Authorities revive the Salman Rushdie dispute

For the past nine years, Muhammed Fayyaz has operated a quietly successful business in the south London district of Tooting. From crowded offices squeezed between a Chinese restaurant and a convenience store, Fayyaz manufactures videotapes of movies from India and Pakistan and distributes them around the world. He says that the British authorities did not object—

until last week. Then, Fayyaz became the centre of an international controversy after British censors banned a Pakistani adventure film that he had imported. One part of the movie shows author Salman Rushdie being struck dead by a bolt of lightning. The decision revived the dispute over Rushdie’s critically praised novel The Satanic Verses, which Moslems say defames their religion. The decision to ban the film was condemned by British Moslems as hypocritical. Declared Fayyaz, who emigrated from Pakistan to Britain in 1967: “The authorities do nothing to ban the book—and yet they ban this film. It’s unfair and a double standard.”

Many non-Moslems, as well as Rushdie himself, also criticized the ruling. The British

Board of Film Classification, which reviews all films and videos distributed in the country, ruled that International Guerrillas, a sprawling 3V2-hour epic released last March in Pakistan, contravened criminal libel laws. The movie features a character named Salman Rushdie who heads an international criminal gang, murders Moslems and is surrounded by beautiful women and bodyguards. In the end, the fictional Rushdie is killed by lightning, representing an act of God.

The muddled, crudely made movie has been playing to packed houses in Pakistan since March. But the film board ruled that it would expose Rushdie to public hatred and should not be released. The author himself, who has been in hiding under police protection for 17 months since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran (who died in 1989) sentenced Rushdie to death for blaspheming against Islam, strongly disagreed. His supporters in the Rushdie defence committee announced that the author said International Guerrillas “should be in the public domain so that any libel or offence may be dealt with according to the due process of law.” Added the committee’s chairman, Frances D’Souza, director of Article 19, an international human rights organization: "He feels it should not be decided in advance what the public should or should not see without there being proof that it would cause public disorder.”

Others contended that banning the film would only keep the Satanic Verses controversy alive and prolong the time that Rushdie has ¡2 to be hidden and protected. Since February, 2 when he gave two interviews and published a - major essay on Khomeini’s death sentence in s* The Independent newspaper, Rushdie has I made few public statements. But he has not been idle in the secret, carefully guarded socalled safe houses that the government provides. Penguin Books of Canada will publish a children’s book that he wrote during his exile in October. A second new book by Rushdie, a collection of essays entitled Imaginary Homelands, is scheduled to be published in Britain next spring.

For Fayyaz, the ban was a setback that may yet work to his advantage. He had expected to sell 5,000 copies of International Guerrillas at about $40 each in Britain, and a total of 20,000 around the world. Last week, Fayyaz appealed the film board’s ruling to an independent committee that oversees its decisions, but the result of that appeal was not expected for two weeks. If the ban is lifted, he said, the Pakistani movie “could be the blockbuster of all time.”

ANDREW PHILLIPS in London