a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Persecuted and victimised for defending our freedoms


The reality of living under a fatwa
Peter Mayer Publisher
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

This was real stuff.  And the issue of the book then became exacerbated by issues that Salman threw up, I'm sure thinking he was doing the right thing, and who's to say what is right and what is not right in a world that had never encountered anything quite like this before?  And his view was to have Penguin publish the paperback [soon].  Well, we always were going to publish the paperback, but he wanted to be the lead person in deciding when the paperback would be published.

And we, who had battened down the hatches everywhere, we had security against Semtex bombs -   powder coming out of Czechoslovakia which apparently can be detected in an envelope, so everything coming into Penguin offices had to be screened - that was true in the US and UK; many policemen with guard dogs - this going on in all our offices; one of our employees going mentally off the rails.

I'm no hero.  I was as frightened as anybody.  Maybe more frightened, because the fatwa was against Salman Rushdie and his publisher.  And the fatwa is still in force because, as I understand fatwas - and that's not my main area of competence - the only withdrawal of a fatwa can be done by the party who imposed the fatwa.  As Khomeini is dead, the fatwa goes on.

What did happen was, over the years, the government in Tehran disassociated itself from the killing aspects of the fatwa.  And so, that would have meant no more bands of killers, if there ever were any - I don't know.  But they removed their public endorsement of the fatwa.  So the fatwa still exists in an Islamic sense, as I understand it, but not in an Iranian governmental sense.

However, I had letters put into my letter box.  I didn't live like a monk or like a hunted man.  I chose not to.  I was advised by many to live like a hunted man and change my address, change my car, move into a hotel which we did one night - my wife and child and I in New York, when we started getting cackling telephone messages, laughing and saying how we would all be killed.

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, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

Duration: 3 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015