Imran Khan’s interview to a British daily created a storm in Pakistan, chiefly for one reason – controversial writer Salman Rushdie.
The PTI chairman and former prime minister rushed to clarify his stance hours after publication of the interview in The Guardian, but it had already caused damage.
It was the second time in recent years Imran Khan is being discussed in relation to the controversial writer. He had refused to participate in a conference in India in 2012 because Rushdie was due to speak there.
Rights groups then condemned Imran Khan who declared “the author had caused immeasurable hurt to Muslims” as a major reason behind his boycott of the event where he had also been invited to speak. His statement was then widely published worldwide, receiving criticism from many, including Rushdie himself, who went to compare Khan with deposed Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Religious circles in Pakistan applauded him for the boycott. This time, however, he was caught in a mess because of his “misquoted words”.
“British newspaper The Guardian had taken my comments on Salman Rushdie’s attack out of context,” clarified Khan in an audio clip posted on Twitter by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) official handle.
“Rushdie understood because he came from a Muslim family. He knows the love, respect, and reverence of a prophet (PBUH) that lives in our hearts. He knew that. So, the anger I understood, but you can’t justify what happened,” the PTI chairman was quoted by The Guardian. His two sentences on the attack that had sent Rushdie to a ventilator were carried by social media websites and Urdu dailies in the country but it was particularly used by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) for its entire election campaign in NA-245 Karachi by-polls scheduled for today (Sunday).
The far-right Sunni-Brelvi organisation TLP, whose candidate Ahmed Raza is the main runner along with MQM’s Moeed Anwar and PTI’s Mehmood Baqi Moulvi, is running the top trend on Twitter – ‘Gustakho Ka Yar Imran Khan (the friend of blasphemers [is] Imran Khan)’ – making Khan’s statement as a base. The TLP had taken out a massive rally in the constituency where the participants chanted the slogan ‘Kill anyone who insults the Prophet (PBUH)’.
“One who doesn’t support the attack on Rushdie is a [expletive],” TLP head Saad Rizvi said while addressing the rally, indirectly mentioning Khan, whose PTI also launched a counterattack on Twitter with hashtag ‘[Expletive] ka tola – TLP (the group of [expletive] – TLP)’. The outcome of the NA-245 election, the seat vacated after the death of PTI MNA Aamir Liaquat, will establish the extent of the damage. Lucky would Khan be if the PTI regains the constituency.
Khan clarified on Saturday, “In the interview, I explained the Islamic method of punishing blasphemers. I gave the example of the Sialkot incident […] spoke about Rushdie in the same context,” he clarified, referring to the shocking murder of a Sri Lankan man last year over blasphemy charges.
Interestingly, other religious and political parties including Shia organisations like Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen and Tehreek-e-Islami, who being followers of late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini – the religious cleric behind issuance of the first fatwa (religious decree) against Rushdie in 1989 for writing a controversial novel and called for his death –were silent on the attack on the writer. They also did not comment on The Guardian’s interview.
Rushdie lived underground as the book caused a firestorm, led to booksellers in different countries being firebombed and publishers receiving persistent bomb threats. The Japanese translator of the novel, Hitoshi Igarashi, was murdered in 1991.