Salman Rushdie Attack recalls the murder of his Japanese translator

TOKYO — The attack on Salman Rushdie Friday in western New York sparked renewed interest in previous attacks on people connected to his...


TOKYO — The attack on Salman Rushdie Friday in western New York sparked renewed interest in previous attacks on people connected to his 1988 novel, ‘The Satanic Verses,’ including his Japanese translator, who was killed in 1991.

The translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed to death aged 44 in July at the University of Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo, where he had been teaching comparative Islamic culture for five years. No arrests were ever made and the crime remains unsolved.

Mr. Igarashi had translated “The Satanic Verses” for a Japanese edition which was published after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeinithen supreme leader of Iran, had ordered Muslims to kill the British writer of Indian origin because of the book’s description of the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr Rushdie, 75, who underwent surgery on Friday after being stabbed by a mugger in Chautauqua, NY, said in 1991 that news of Mr Igarashi’s death left him “extremely distressed”.

Japanese police said at the time that they had no specific evidence linking the attack to the “Satanic Verses”. But news reports reported that the novel’s Japanese publisher had received death threats from Islamist militants and that Mr. Igarashi had been protected for a time by bodyguards.

The publishing house, Shinsensha, had also faced protests at its Tokyo office in 1990, and a Pakistani citizen was arrested that year for attempting to assault a promoter of the book at a conference in hurry.

Mr. Igarashi was killed as he left his office at the University of Tsukuba after a day of teaching. His son, Ataru Igarashi, told a reporter years later that he was working on translating “The Canon of Medicine”, a medieval medical manual by the Islamic physician and philosopher. Ibn Sina.

Police said a janitor found Mr Igarashi’s body near an elevator with cuts to his neck, face and hands. A brown leather bag Mr Igarashi was carrying was covered in slash marks, suggesting he had tried to defend himself during the attack, Shukan Asahi magazine reported.

He is survived by his wife, Masako Igarashi, and their two children.

Speculation about the murder has circulated in Japanese media for years. The most widely held theory, reported in 1998 by Daily Shincho magazine, was that investigators briefly identified a Bangladeshi student from the University of Tsukuba as a suspect, but pulled out under pressure from senior officials, who worried about the potential implications for Japan. relations with Islamic nations. No solid evidence for this theory has ever emerged.

Mr. Igarashi may be the only person to be killed due to his work with Mr. Rushdie. Several others have survived assassination attempts, including Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator of “Satanic Verses”, who was stabbed in his flat in Milan days before the attack on Mr Igarashi.

In July 1993, Turkish novelist Aziz Nesin, who had published a translated extract from “Satanic Verses” in a local newspaper, narrowly escaped death when a crowd of militants burned down a hotel in eastern Turkey where he was staying to try to kill him.

Mr Nesin, then 78, escaped from the building via a fire ladder. But 37 others – intellectuals who had gathered at the hotel to discuss ways to promote secularism – died in the fire. A later Turkish court sentenced to death 33 people for their role in the attack.

In October 1993, the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, William Nygaard, was fired three times outside his home in Oslo. He made a full recovery and went to reprint the book in contempt.

In 2018, the Norwegian police filed a complaint in the case two days before a deadline which would have ousted the proceedings. They declined to name the suspects or specify how many had been charged.

The lack of progress in the case has drawn strong criticism of the police investigation, which has focused primarily on personal rather than political or religious motives, according to a 2008 documentary by Odd Isungset, a journalist who also wrote a book about the attack.

According to the Norwegian public television channel, NRK, one of the suspects is a Lebanese citizen, Khaled Moussawi, who was questioned during the initial investigation. Although the Norwegian police have never released this name, Mr. Moussawi, who returned to Lebanon in 1996, confirmed to NRK that he was one of the accused.

The other suspect, according to information from Mr. Isungset and NRK, is an Iranian diplomat who worked at his country’s embassy in Oslo from 1989 to 1993, when he left Norway.

Halvard Helle, a lawyer for Mr Nygaard, said in an interview that two people had been charged in the case, including a former Iranian diplomat. He called on the police to issue international arrest warrants for the suspects.

Mr. Isungset expressed doubts about the conclusion of the case. “Unfortunately, I don’t think this case will ever go to court in Norway,” he said.

As for the murder of Mr. Igarashi, the limitation period in the case expired in 2006, producing a general feeling of disappointment that there would be no closure – or a reflection on what the murder meant for the country.

“If an author had been arrested, it might have sparked a discussion about freedom of religion and speech,” said Sachi Sakanashi, a researcher at the Tokyo Institute of Energy Economics who specializes in Iranian politics. “However, that did not happen.”

In 2009, the professor’s widow, Masako Igarashi, recovered his wallet, glasses and other belongings from a police station where they had long been held as evidence, Shukan Asahi magazine reported.

But last year, police officials told the Mainichi Shimbun they were continuing to investigate Mr Igarashi’s murder in the hope that the statute of limitations would not apply if the perpetrator appeared to have fled the country.

Ms Igarashi, a high school principal and scholar of comparative Japanese literature, told the newspaper that she remained hopeful of finding justice.

“When times change,” she told the Mainichi Shimbun, “the possibility of a sudden breakthrough will not be zero.”

Hikari Hida reported from Tokyo, Mike Ives from Seoul.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Salman Rushdie Attack recalls the murder of his Japanese translator
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