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Salman Rushdie Attack Recalls Murder of His Japanese Translator


TOKYO — The attack on Salman Rushdie in western Recent York State on Friday prompted renewed interest in previous attacks on people connected to his 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses,” including its Japanese translator, who was killed in 1991.

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

Mr. Igarashi had translated “The Satanic Verses” for a Japanese edition that was published after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then the supreme leader of Iran, had ordered Muslims to kill the Indian-born British author over the book’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr. Rushdie, 75, who went into surgery on Friday after being stabbed by an attacker in Chautauqua, N.Y., had said in 1991 that news of Mr. Igarashi’s death had left him feeling “extremely distressed.”

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

The publishing house, Shinsensha, had also faced protests at its Tokyo office in 1990, and a Pakistani citizen was arrested that 12 months for attempting to assault a promoter of the book at a news conference.

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

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

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

Speculation concerning the killing circulated within the Japanese news media for years. Probably the most outstanding theory, reported in 1998 by the magazine Every day Shincho, was that investigators had briefly identified a Bangladeshi student at Tsukuba University as a suspect, but that they’d stood down amid pressure from top officials, who frightened concerning the potential implications for Japan’s relations with Islamic nations. No solid evidence of that theory ever emerged.

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

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

Mr. Nesin, who was then 78, escaped the constructing via a firefighters’ ladder. But 37 others — intellectuals who had gathered on the hotel to debate ways of promoting secularism — died within the blaze. A Turkish court later sentenced 33 people to death for his or her roles within the attack.

In October 1993, the Norwegian publisher of “The Satanic Verses,” William Nygaard, was shot 3 times outside his home in Oslo. He made a full recovery and went on to reprint the book in defiance.

In 2018, the Norwegian police filed charges within the case two days before a deadline that will have foreclosed prosecution. They declined to call the suspects or specify what number of had been charged.

The dearth of progress within the case has brought sharp criticism of the police investigation, which focused principally on personal motives, somewhat than political or religious ones, in line with a 2008 documentary by Odd Isungset, a journalist who also wrote a book concerning the attack.

In line with Norway’s state broadcaster, NRK, one among the suspects is a Lebanese citizen, Khaled Moussawi, who had been questioned throughout the initial investigation. Although the Norwegian police have never released that name, Mr. Moussawi, who returned to Lebanon in 1996, confirmed to NRK that he was one among those charged.

The opposite suspect, in line with reporting by Mr. Isungset and by 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 within the case, including an Iranian former diplomat. He called for the police to issue international arrest warrants for the suspects.

Mr. Isungset expressed doubt that the case would reach a conclusion. “Unfortunately, I don’t think this matter will ever go to court in Norway,” he said.

As for Mr. Igarashi’s killing, the statute of limitations within the case expired in 2006, producing a general sense of disappointment that there could be no closure — or reflection on what the murder meant for the country.

“If a perpetrator had been caught, then perhaps that will have spurred a discussion on freedom of faith and speech,” said Sachi Sakanashi, a researcher on the Institute of Energy Economics in Tokyo who focuses on Iranian politics. “Nonetheless, that didn’t occur.”

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

But last 12 months, police officials told the Mainichi Shimbun that they were continuing to research Mr. Igarashi’s killing within the hope that the statute of limitations may not apply if a perpetrator turned out to have fled the country.

Ms. Igarashi, a highschool principal and a scholar of comparative Japanese literature, told the newspaper that she held out hope of finding justice.

“When times change,” she told the Mainichi Shimbun, “the potential of a sudden breakthrough won’t be zero.”

Hikari Hida reported from Tokyo and Mike Ives from Seoul. Henrik Pryser Libell contributed reporting from Oslo.

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