Salman Rushdie Signs Humanist Manifesto 2000 or How I Met the Great but Distant Man

Paris: Oct. 7

Salman Rushdie was in Paris on the occasion of the publication of the French edition of his latest novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, (" La Terre Sous Ses Pieds"). Just a few days before his public appearance, a friend phoned to ask me whether I wanted to go and meet Rushdie at a press conference in the famous Parisian bookshop of FNAC –St.Lazare. I jumped at the idea, and immediately set out for the capital. But on arriving at the bookshop, we were told that only those who had special invitations were permitted to get anywhere near the great man, who was heavily guarded. I was greatly disappointed, and made my way to my friend’s flat which was quite a distance from the FNAC –St.Lazare. Just before reaching her flat, I walked past a bookshop, and noticed an enormous photo of Rushdie in the window. The shop was obviously stocking a large number of copies of Rushdie's latest book, and almost all his other titles available in French. I was about to turn away thinking Rushdie was mocking me and rubbing in my failure to meet him, when I noticed an unassuming little note at the bottom of the photo saying Rushdie would be present to sign copies of his book in this particular bookshop in two days time. I entered to check to see whether Rushdie himself would really turn up at this tiny little bookshop, almost unannounced. Yes indeed, he would. Sheer luck! Sheer coincidence! I waited in the cold, third person in the queue on Thursday, October 7th at 20 .00 hours outside the bookshop; The elderly French couple in front of me said they had not read anything by Rushdie but they were there on principle to support Rushdie morally.

About fifteen bodyguards were placed in front of the bookshop, and at promptly 20.30 Rushdie turned up in a large car with two more policemen. He was rushed into the bookshop, and then placed, rather illogically, right in front of the bookshop window, where any assassin would have had no problem in firing directly from a car or motorcycle from the road. Again, rather illogically, given all the fuss surrounding Rushdie’s security, the public were let in without any rigorous body search ; they did not even check my briefcase as I sauntered in.

As I suddenly found myself in front of Rushdie, I asked him to sign a copy of his book ( French edition), and then I blurted out breathlessly and as quickly as possible that I was Ibn Warraq, that I had sent him a copy of my book over two years ago, had he heard of it? had he read it ? here was yet another copy? Yes, he had heard of it, but did not think he had ever received a copy. No he would not have much time to see me after the signing but I could wait and see.

So, at the end when about 45 - 50 people had filed past, and the field was clear, I again approached Rushdie. He was a little more relaxed this time but still hardly very friendly. He confessed that he had after all received a copy of my book but in manuscript form! I showed him the copy of Free Inquiry with the Humanist Manifesto 2000, explained to him very quickly what it and the Council of Secular Humanism was all about, and invited him to sign the manifesto and come to the Congress in Los Angeles in May 2000.He said he would look at it and let me know. I asked his permission to write to him via email, as I had his email address from Taslima Nasrin. He gave his permission, and as I left, I added, "Mr. Rushdie, thank you very much, you are an inspiration to all of us." There for the first time, he showed some sort of human warmth, as he smiled spontaneously at my generous tribute.

I wrote to him via email giving more details about the conference in L.A. A few weeks later, I received a terse email note saying I could add his name to the Manifesto but that he was unable to attend the meeting in L.A.