It also emerged yesterday that the writers' organisation that led the lobbying for the author of Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses to be knighted had originally hoped that the honour would lead to better relations between Britain and Asia....
It was chaired by Lord Rothschild, the investment banker and former chairman of the trustees of the National Gallery. The other committee members are Jenny Abramsky, the BBC's director of radio and music; novelist and poet Ben Okri, who is vice-president of the English chapter of PEN International, which campaigns on behalf of writers who face persecution; Andreas Whittam Smith, former editor of the Independent; John Gross, the author and former theatre critic of the Sunday Telegraph; and two permanent secretaries, one from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and one from the Scottish executive....
"Very properly, we were concerned only with merit in relation to the level of the award," Mr Whittam Smith said yesterday.
He added that it would be for the main committee to assess any other aspects of the honour. The Foreign Office is represented on the main committee by the permanent secretary, whose job it would be to raise any potential international ramifications. A Foreign Office spokesman said he was not aware of any request by the honours committee to gauge likely Muslim reaction to the knighthood before the decision was taken.
The Pakistani foreign ministry summoned the British high commissioner yesterday to complain about the knighthood, but British officials said they used the occasion to protest about the remarks by Mr Ejaz ul-Haq, who has since said that his comments were a statement of fact and not intended to incite violence.For those who missed it, Mr. Ejaz ul-Haq, Pakistan's Minister of Religious Affairs, made the statement that Rushdie's proposed honor was complete justification for anyone who now decides kill innocent British citizens in protest of this supposed insult to Islam.
"The high commissioner, Robert Brinkley, made clear to the Pakistan ministry of foreign affairs the British government's deep concern about what the minister of religious affairs is reported to have said," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said. "We made very clear that nothing can justify suicide bomb attacks."
However, Pakistan's foreign minister, Kurshid Kasuri, said on a visit to Washington that Britain could not have been surprised by the outrage.
Look at the list of people on the recommendation committee. Is it really possible that not one of those esteemed individuals even thought for one second that something like this might happen? Can they really be that out of touch with the realities of today's politics? I wonder if Mr. Rushdie himself, despite what he says for public consumption, really believes that an honor that puts his life in even more danger than it already is really worth it. I'm all for honoring authors, especially with honors outside the literary community, but this one seems to be asking for trouble. Am I wrong?