Khalid Tanveer  /  AP
Pakistan's religious students burn effigies of Queen Elizabeth II and author Salman Rushdie in Multan on Sunday.
updated 6/18/2007 11:47:36 AM ET 2007-06-18T15:47:36

Pakistan on Monday condemned Britain’s award of a knighthood to author Salman Rushdie as an affront to Muslim sentiments, and a Cabinet minister said the honor provided a justification for suicide attacks.

“This is an occasion for the (world’s) 1.5 billion Muslims to look at the seriousness of this decision,” Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, religious affairs minister, said in parliament.

“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 said.

Iran’s late spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a 1989 fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill the author because his book, “The Satanic Verses,” allegedly insulted Islam. The threat forced Rushdie to live in hiding for a decade.

Outrage over knighthood
Britain’s envoy 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 on Saturday announced the knighthood in an honors list timed for the official celebration of the queen’s 81st birthday.

In the eastern city of Multan, hard-line Muslim students burned effigies of Queen Elizabeth II and Rushdie. About 100 students carrying banners condemning the author also chanted, “Kill him! Kill him!”

Lawmakers in Pakistan’s lower house of parliament on Monday passed a resolution proposed by Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sher Afgan Khan Niazi who branded Rushdie — who was born in India into a Muslim family — a “blasphemer.”

“The 'sir' title from Britain for blasphemer Salman Rushdie has hurt the sentiments of the Muslims across the world. Every religion should be respected. I demand the British government immediately withdraw the title as it is creating religious hatred,” Niazi told the National Assembly.

British defend the decision
Lawmakers voted unanimously for the resolution although one opposition member, Khwaja Asif, said it exposed a contradiction in the government’s policy as an ally of Britain in the international war on terrorism.

Robert Brinkley, Britain’s high commissioner to Pakistan, defended the decision to honor Rushdie for his contributions to literature.

“It is simply untrue to suggest that this in anyway is an insult to Islam or the Prophet Muhammed, and we have enormous respect for Islam as a religion and for its intellectual and cultural achievements,” Brinkley said.

Asked if he was concerned it could provoke unrest in Pakistan, Brinkley said, “We will just have to see where it goes from here. There’s certainly no reason for that.”

At the Multan protest, Asim Dahr, a student leader from the group Jamiat Turaba Arabia, demanded Rushdie face Islamic justice.

“This queen has made a mockery of Muslims by giving him a title of 'sir.' Salman Rushdie was condemned by Imam Khomeini and he issued a decree about his death. He should be handed over to the Muslims so they can try him according to Islamic laws,” he said.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said Rushdie’s knighthood would hamper interfaith understanding and that Islamabad would protest to London.

“We deplore the decision of the British government to knight him. This we feel is insensitive and we would convey our sentiments to the British government.”

Iran on Sunday also condemned the knighthood for Rushdie.

“Sir Salman’s honor is richly deserved and the reasons for it are self-explanatory,” said spokesman Aidan Liddle.

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