Salman Rushdie complains over heavy security at writers' festival

The 11th Prague Writers' Festival is now well underway, and this year's line up of international authors includes a well-known and controversial figure: Salman Rushdie, whose book the Satanic Verses brought condemnation from the Islamic world and a death edict, or fatwa, from Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989. By Nick Carey.

Over the past few years, Mr. Rushdie has been travelling extensively and even visited India, where he is still demonised by the Muslim community, in April last year. Since arriving in Prague, he has complained several times over the large security operations arranged locally to protect him during his visit. At a press conference on Tuesday, Mr. Rushdie said that he found such protection embarrassing, because it is unnecessary:

"Assumptions about what my life is like are not exactly correct. They might be correct about what it was like at the very beginning. But really, I've been getting my life back step by step for quite a long time. And it is one of the reasons, I've said so several times in the past couple of days, that to be here and find a relatively large security operation around me has actually felt a little embarrassing, because I thought it was really unnecessary and kind of excessive and was certainly not arranged on my request. I spent a great deal of time before I came here saying that I really didn't want that. So I was very surprised to arrive here and discover a really quite substantial operation, because it felt like being in a time warp, that I had gone back in time several years."

As for the Satanic Verses themselves, which caused uproar in Muslim circles thirteen years ago, Mr. Rushdie said that the book has been widely misunderstood, especially by a great many people who have not read it:

"The Satanic Verses that people argued about seemed to me to have almost no relation to the book that was available for you to read. And yet that Satanic Verses was, of course, much discussed, almost always by people who had not read it, because to read it was to discover that it was a different book. One of the things not often said about the Satanic Verses is that it is a comic novel and in all the acres of print about it you very rarely hear anyone say that it is supposed to be funny. The most prominent aspect of the Satanic Verses is that it is a novel about England, not about Islam."

During the press conference, Mr. Rushdie was also critical of the British government's policy towards asylum seekers, a significant number of which have come from the Czech Republic's Roma minority in recent years:

"I agree strongly with the recent report, which criticises the fact that this issue is being enflamed. First of all, the numbers of people involved are extremely small, and secondly, it's always been believed that asylum is one of the major characteristics of a free society. A society that refuses to give asylum to people in need, or characterises them as immigrants through the back door, is actually doing itself some damage. It's important that we say that over and over again. There has been a consistent attempt across Europe, not just in Britain, but also in France, to tighten asylum laws to make it harder for people to seek asylum and it's a very worrying trend."