February 28, 1989 | Firebombing of Riverdale Press in New York

On this day in 1989 the offices of The Riverdale Press were heavily damaged by two firebombs thrown by a ‘man with a mustache’.

Terrorists are very intolerant people, wanting to stop everything – and everyone – they disagree with.

NEW YORK, USA — Does the name Salman Rushdie mean anything to you? I suppose there are those for whom the UK writer has long been a household fixture – after all he has written dozens of books over multiple decades.

But for most of us I suppose it is one work for which he is famous, or perhaps better put infamous. That one book was published in 1988 with the title The Satanic Verses. And it did not get good reviews in some quarters.

The book itself is anodyne to be honest (I tried to read it and failed: it did not appeal to me personally). It is written in the genre of ‘magic realism’, of which I know next to nothing. In essence the story begins with a hijacked plane which explodes over the English Channel and two characters take on new personalities, that of the archangel Gabriel (who, in Islamic belief, is the one who dictated the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad) and the Devil.

On this day in 1989 the offices of The Riverdale Press were heavily damaged by two firebombs thrown by a ‘man with a mustache’.

And so on and so on. The real controversy came in when Rushdie included a series of ‘dream sequences’, one of which features the wives of the Prophet Muhammad as prostitutes. The title of the novel itself refers to certain revelations bestowed on Muhammad in which he proclaimed that the old polytheistic creeds of the precursors to Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula were ok, only to later state that the Devil had tricked him (hence, their satanic nature).

It took a while but the reaction to the book in many parts of the Islamic world was anything but two thumbs up. Thousands went into the streets of many cities demanding the death of Rushdie. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini even issued a fatwa (a religious edict) calling for such. Although Rushdie himself was ok, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death in 1991 (an Italian translator was wounded that same year) and the Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses was shot three times in Oslo in 1993.

1989 Firebombing of the Riverdale Press

On this day in 1989 the offices of The Riverdale Press, a family-owned weekly newspaper in the Bronx, were heavily damaged by two firebombs – bottles filled with gasoline – thrown by a ‘man with a mustache’ who fled with a companion in a station wagon. No one claimed the incident.

One theory centered on the possibility that the firebombing was linked to an editorial penned by the company in which it chastised major bookstore chains for removing from their shelves copies of The Satanic Verses,  although police noted there was no evidence to support this hypothesis. Still, why else would someone ‘with a mustache’ toss a gasoline-laden bottle at a small New York press?

The bottom line is that terrorists, especially Islamist ones, are a dull, humourless bunch. They have a narrow view of the world and brook no criticism of their draconian, prehistoric views on life. To them, it is their way or the highway, if you get what I mean.

Ayatollah Khomeini once said “There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam.” I guess satire would be part of that.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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