After six months of deliberations, the Royal Theater in Copenhagen has decided against a play based on the Indian-British author Salman Rushdie's controversial novel "The Satanic Verses". For many, this reflects how Denmark is pandering to its growing Muslim population, and it is a painful reminder of Rushdie's troubled relationship with Denmark.
Playwright Hassan Preisler, who is behind the idea of turning Rushdie's 1988 novel into a play, believes that the national theatre is simply afraid to stage the performance because of its anti-Islamic sentiment and the possible storm it may stir.
Morten Kirkskov, head of the theater's dramatic department, who as late as January this year got in touch with Rushdie's literary agent about copyright issues, said that fear had nothing to do with the decision.
"Fear played no role in our decision," Kirkskov assured Danish Radio. "It never crossed our mind."
Even theater director Morten Hesseldahl guaranteed that the decision was not dictated by the still-boiling controversy surrounding "The Satanic Verses."
"The world is full of controversial books. Just because a book is controversial and some say it is, it would not prevent us from staging it anyway. In this case, we have simply decided to set up two other novels in this period," Hesseldahl said, as quoted by the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
Incidentally, this is not the first incident to have soured Rushdie's relationship with Denmark. In late 1996, the Indian-born author was due to visit Copenhagen but then-prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen canceled the visit due to security reasons. Rasmussen's decision was derided by Rushdie and others as far-fetched and made-up in order to secure a lucrative Danish cheese export deal to Iran, where a death warrant has been issued for the novelist. Rasmussen's revocation was challenged by British intelligence, which stated that Rushdie did not pose a threat.
This was regarded as a massive political blunder by Rasmussen, who later publicly apologized to Rushdie and re-invited the author back to Copenhagen. Rushdie triumphantly returned a few months later, humiliating Rasmussen by appearing in public drinking beer and clearly unconcerned about any security risk.
Rushdie's fourth novel, "The Satanic Verses" (1988), which had references to the Islamic prophet Mohammed, became the focal point of a major controversy, invoking wrath from the Muslim world. The fury culminated in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, the then-supreme leader of Iran, issuing a fatwa, which called for Rushdie's assassination for blasphemy in February 1989. Rushdie was forced to go into hiding at the time and has lived under constant protection ever since.
At present, Islam is Denmark's largest minority religion. According to statistics cited by the BBC, Denmark has a Muslim population of about 270 thousand (4.8 percent out of a total population of 5.6 million).
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