Salman Rushdie Attack remembers the murder of his Japanese translator

TOKYO (AP) — The attack on Salman Rushdie in western New York state on Friday sparked renewed interest in earlier attacks on people associated with his 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses,” including his Japanese translator, who was assassinated in 1991.

The translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed to death at the age of 44 that 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 translated “The Satanic Verses” for a Japanese edition that was published after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s Supreme Leader, ordered Muslims to kill the Indian-born British writer for his portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad. in the book.

Rushdie, 75, who underwent surgery on Friday after being stabbed by an attacker in Chautauqua, New York, said in 1991 that news of Igarashi’s death had left him feeling “extremely distraught.”

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

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

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

Police said a janitor had found Mr. Igarashi’s body near an elevator with cuts to his neck, face and hands. A brown leather bag carried by Mr. Igarashi was covered with cut marks, suggesting that 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 assassination circulated in the Japanese media for years. The most prominent theory, reported in 1998 by the Daily Shincho magazine, was that investigators briefly identified a Bangladeshi student at Tsukuba University as a suspect, but backed out amid pressure from senior officials, who were concerned. because of the possible implications for Japan. relations with Islamic nations. Hard evidence for that theory never surfaced.

Mr. Igarashi may be the only person killed for his work with Mr. Rushdie. Several others survived attempts on their lives, including Ettore Capriolo, the Italian translator of “The Satanic Verses,” who was stabbed to death in his Milan apartment days before the attack on Igarashi.

In July 1993, Turkish novelist Aziz Nesin, who had published a translated excerpt from “The Satanic Verses” in a local newspaper, narrowly escaped death when a mob of militants set fire to a hotel in eastern Turkey where he was staying. in an attempt to kill him.

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

In October 1993, the Norwegian editor of “The Satanic Verses”, William Nygaard, was shot three times outside his home in Oslo. He made a full recovery and went on to reprint the book in defiance.

In 2018, Norwegian police filed charges in the case two days before the deadline that would have prevented prosecution. They refused to name the suspects or specify how many had been charged.

As for the murder of Mr. Igarashi, the statute of limitations on the case expired in 2006, leading to a general sense of disappointment that there would not be a closure, or a reflection on what the murder meant for the country.

“If a perpetrator had been caught, perhaps that would have stimulated a discussion about freedom of religion and freedom of expression,” 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, collected his wallet, glasses and other possessions 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 that they were continuing to investigate Mr. Igarashi’s murder in the hope that the statute of limitations might not apply if the perpetrator had fled the country.

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

“When times change,” he told the Mainichi Shimbun, “the chance of a sudden breakthrough will not be nil.”

Hikari Hida reported from Tokyo, mike ives from Seoul.

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