Post-Rushdie, Iran welcome back at book fair
FRANKFURT, Oct 12 (Reuters) - With the death threats against British
author Salman Rushdie now easing, the world's biggest book fair on Tuesday
welcomed back Iranian publishers for the first time in 10 years.
The move was a morale booster for Iranian editors, but some were still
clearly angry it had taken so long for Tehran to be accepted back into
the international publishing fold.
"I don't know why publishers in Germany punished Iranian people,"
leading women's publisher Shahla Lahiji told Reuters as she set up her
stand at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair. "I never had the answer
to this important question.
We are people not governments," she added. Fellow publisher Hassan
Kiyaaian agreed: "Literature is for everyone all around the world
and we are part of that world."
BOOK FAIR AN "OPEN FORUM" FOR INDEPENDENT VOICES
The decision to let Iran back into the fair was announced by its director
"Iranian publishing companies are exhibiting again in Frankfurt
for the first time in 10 years," he told a news conference before
the opening of the fair that has attracted 6,600 publishers from a record
"We had excluded Iran because the Iranian government officially
supported the fatwa which threatened the writer Salman Rushdie with death,"
"It was time to reconsider that decision when the Iranian president
distanced himself from the fatwa last autumn.
"We observed very closely the without doubt highly contradictory
process of liberalisation within his country and in the end came to the
conclusion that precisely the open forum of the Book Fair would be an important
arena for new and independent voices from Iran."
In a deal to normalise diplomatic relations with Britain last year,
the Iranian government disavowed the fatwa issued against Rushdie in 1989
by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran's revolutionary leader,
for blaspheming against Islam in his book "The Satanic Verses."
DISSIDENT SARKUHI TO TAKE PART IN PANEL DISCUSSION
But hardline conservatives in Iran have said the death edict against
Rushdie remains in place even if no longer supported by the Tehran government.
Shala Lahiji, director of the Roshangaran and Women's Studies publishing
house, felt Frankfurt was an important first step for her publishing industry,
especially for women writers.
"Our culture goes back many centuries. It is one of the oldest
civilisations in the world. The Salman Rushdie issue is political. It does
not concern me. I am a messenger for culture and not politics," she
Iranian dissident writer Faraj Sarkuhi, offered a German grant last
year to live and work in Frankfurt, will be appearing at a panel discussion
at the Fair on Saturday.