The Cabinet meeting that kept Salman Rushdie alive

In a letter to Standpoint, published in the latest issue of the magazine, Nigel Lawson reveals the Cabinet’s unanimous support for Special Branch protection of Salman Rushdie when, in 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa against the Satanic Verses author and offered a bounty for his death.

The decision to protect Rushdie was taken “at no little diplomatic cost and public expense,” writes Lawson who says he “actively participated in the Cabinet meeting which decided, nem con, that this must be done”. Lord Lawson, who sits on Standpoint‘s advisory board and was Chancellor of the Exchequer when the fatwa was issued, was writing in response to a review by Nick Cohen of Rushdie’s new memoir, Joseph Anton. Here is the letter in full:

Masquerading as a review of Salman Rushdie’s autobiography, Nick Cohen’s odiously self-satisfied diatribe (“The Dreyfus Affair of our Age”, November) takes the opportunity to heap abuse on, inter alios, Margaret Thatcher and a number of her Cabinet colleagues-as indeed did Rushdie himself, in the years leading up to the publication of The Satanic Verses.

He concludes in these words: “Rushdie’s autobiography has two sets of heroes, who look all the more heroic when set against the politicians and intellectuals of Left and Right. The liberal chattering classes, who are the butt of so much mockery, behaved impeccably . . . The other heroes are the protection officers of the ‘A Squad’ of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch, who worked on the Rushdie ‘prot’ and maintained their honourable record of keeping their charges alive.’

Who on earth does he (and, indeed, Rushdie) think was responsible for taking the decision to instruct the Special Branch to do just this, at no little diplomatic cost and public expense? I write as one who actively participated in the Cabinet meeting which decided, nem con, that this must be done.

Nigel Lawson, House of Lords, London SW1

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