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Queen Elizabeth confers knighthood on Salman Rushdie

Thursday, June 26, 2008

LONDON -- Author Salman Rushdie slipped into Buckingham Palace on Wednesday to receive a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II that had angered many parts of the Muslim world when the honor was announced last year.

In a break with normal procedure, the palace did not announce ahead of time that Rushdie would be honored Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the queen, who asked not to be identified because of the monarch's policy, said Rushdie was not listed among those to be honored because he was a late addition to the investiture. She refused to comment on whether his name had been withheld because of security concerns.

Security has been a major concern for Rushdie since 1989, when Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini pronounced a death sentence on the author, accusing him of blasphemy against the Muslim world in his novel "The Satanic Verses." The edict forced Rushdie to live underground with constant protection for many years until it was finally withdrawn in 1998.

Rushdie, dressed in a formal morning suit and obviously pleased with the honor, told reporters after the ceremony that he was not sorry about writing "The Satanic Verses."

"I really have no regrets about any of my work," he said when asked about his most inflammatory novel.

"This is, as I say, an honor not for any specific book but for a very long career in writing, and I'm happy to see that recognized."

Rushdie, 61, published his first novel, "Grimus," in 1975, but it drew little attention and few readers.

Success came with his next book, "Midnight's Children," which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1981.

"The Satanic Verses," published in 1988, created a firestorm of controversy, first in Britain and then in Iran, where Khomeini, who had recently come to power after the overthrow of the Shah, pronounced his death sentence on the writer.

The Indian-British writer was forced to accept round-the-clock protection from British special agents and to stay completely out of the public eye. He moved many times and constantly changed his routine in an attempt to throw pursuers off the track.

The Iranian government withdrew the death sentence in 1998, and Rushdie has gradually returned to public life. Recently he has divided his time between New York and London.

"It's been a long time. My first novel was published 33 years ago, but I think the thing you hope to do as a writer is leave behind a shelf of interesting books, and it's great just to have that work recognized," Rushdie said outside the palace as he posed for photos with his medal. "At this stage, you know, it's certainly not a day to talk about controversy. It's a day for myself and my family to celebrate this."

Pressed about which of his books was his favorite, Rushdie said he could not pick one over the others.

"It's difficult to choose between your books," he said. "You wouldn't choose between your children would you?"

Normally cool and composed, Rushdie said he was nervous before the ceremony and appreciated the help with etiquette and protocol provided by palace staff before the ceremony.

"We all get coached in the green room beforehand, and I was very grateful for the coaching because, even though it's a relatively simple set of procedures, it's really easy under the nervousness of the moment to mess them up and I almost did," Rushdie said.

Veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen, best known for his role as Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, also was honored by the queen. McKellen, a longtime gay rights activist who was knighted in 1990, was made a Companion of Honor at the investiture for services to drama and equality.


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