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How misinformation fuelled resentment against The Satanic Verses


Issuing of the fatwa against The Satanic Verses
Peter Mayer Publisher
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It was Patrick Wright who called me [in New York] from London and announced, or said, that this fatwa had been put on the book and on Salman and the publishers of the book, or maybe even the publisher of the book.  One would have to read The New York Times or a British newspaper of that date and see what the exact wording was.  And Patrick said, what shall we do about it?  There was a demand to withdraw the title.

Well, it was not part of my remit, and not part of my background, to withdraw titles because people were offended by them.  So I certainly said on that telephone not to do that, but to take precautions, to keep me informed while I was informing myself.  And I, of course, the next 24 hours, read everything there was to read and the interpretation by every pundit and social and religious journalist.

And the complaints about the book were now truly incendiary, in England more than in America.  There were riots, demonstrations and riots in Bradford and other places which had large Islamic populations.  I think… my father always said you can rent a crowd.  I think many people, even Muslims who protested the book, did not wholly understand the issues.  They had been simplified and reduced by the mullahs in their communities, as someone intentionally, Salman intentionally insulting Islam.  And certainly, hardly any of the people protesting the book had ever read it.

And I think this started to have an effect on all those publishers in other countries who had acquired the book, and therefore meant to publish it.  And there were, must have been queries in every publishing capital of the world.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Salman Rushdie

Duration: 3 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015