Britain will not apologize for its decision to bestow a knighthood on writer Salman Rushdie, the home secretary said Wednesday, highlighting the need to protect freedom of expression in literature and politics.
Britain's decision to award Rushdie a knighthood has caused an uproar in parts of the Muslim world, where many accuse the author of insulting Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses."
Pakistan's religious affairs minister, Ejaz ul-Haq, told lawmakers on Monday that "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."
But Home Secretary John Reid defended Britain's 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.
"We have a set of values that accrues people honors for their contribution to literature even when they don't agree with our point of view," Reid said after a speech to business leaders in New York. "We have a right to express opinions and a tolerance of other people's point of view, and we don't apologize for that."
Reid's comments, first reported by the Press Association news agency and confirmed by his media office, came a day after protesters in Pakistan burned effigies of Rushdie and Queen Elizabeth II.
Pakistan and Iran have also summoned their British ambassadors to protest the move.
Accusations and criticism
Iranian Foreign Ministry official Ebrahim Rahimpour told the British ambassador to Tehran, Geoffrey Adams, that the decision was a "provocative act" that has angered Muslims, the state Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, called in British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley on Tuesday to protest London's "utter lack of sensitivity," ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.
In London, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Wednesday that he respected the right of Britain to decide who received the honor. But he said the decision could be used to cause trouble.
"Iraq is a Muslim country," he said. "We believe that, with all due respect to the knighthood, I think it was untimely.
Britain announced Saturday that it would award Rushdie a knighthood, along with honoring CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour and several others, including a KGB double agent.
Iran's late spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a 1989 fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill the writer because his book, "The Satanic Verses," allegedly insulted Islam. The threat forced Rushdie to live in hiding for a decade.