Islamic hardliners burn an effigy of Sir Salman Rushdie in Islamabad today
Sam Knight and agencies
Britain expressed its "deep concern" today at remarks made by a Pakistani government minister about the knighting of Sir Salman Rushdie as protests against the award continued among Islamic hardliners in Pakistan and Iran.
The British High Commissioner to Pakistan, Robert Brinkley, was summoned to meet officials in Islamabad to hear Pakistani objections to the honour but, according to a Foreign Office spokeswoman, relayed Britain's own "deep concern" about comments made by the religious affairs minister, Mohammed Ijaz ul-Haq, in the national assembly yesterday.
Mr ul-Haq appeared to justify a suicide bombing attack in response to Rushdie's knighthood when he told Pakistani MPs that "if somebody has to attack by strapping a bomb to his body to protect the honour of the Prophet, then it is justified." He later said he had been misunderstood.
Today Mr Brinkley "made clear the British Government’s deep concern at what the minister for religious affairs was reported to have said," according the spokesman. “The British Government is very clear that nothing can justify suicide bomb attacks.”
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said that Mr Brinkley was given copies of resolutions passed unanimously by MPs yesterday condemning Rushdie's knighthood. A spokeswoman said: “He was told the decision by the British Government was contrary to objectives to bring about harmony between the faiths. He was told that the people of Pakistan and Muslims all around the world resent this decision."
Britain's diplomatic protest failed to impress the Conservatives, who said the Government should take a stronger stand against the protests that rose against Rushdie's knighthood yesterday. An Iranian extremist group has raised the bounty on Rushdie's head from $100,000 to $150,000 while the Queen's effigy was burned on the streets of Lahore. Today, an Iranian newspaper called the Queen an "old crone".
Paul Goodman, the Tory MP for Wycombe, said that the UK should demand an apology from the highest reaches of the Pakistani government for Mr ul-Haq's comments and compared the Government's response to its quiet stand in the protests over Danish newspaper cartoons that depicted the Prophet Muhammad last year.
“Our own Government should call for such a condemnation without delay," he said. "Instead, there appears to be radio silence on the matter from ministers. It’s Groundhog Day from the Government on incitement from terror: in the aftermath of the Danish cartoon protests in London, ministers stood idly by. It’s the same feeble story today.”
Rushdie remains formally sentenced to death for blasphemy in a fatwa decreed by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 but Iran has promised not to implement it. Nonetheless, he remains a figure of loathing for many extremist Muslims for his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, in which he depicted a prophet being misled by the Devil.
Radical groups carried on their protests today. The first deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament told cheering MPs: "Salman Rushdie has turned into a hated corpse which cannot be resurrected by any action. The action by the British Queen in knighting Salman Rushdie, the apostate, is an unwise one."
The Iranian daily newspaper, Jomhuri Eslami, linked the knighthood to a party held at the British Embassy in Tehran last week to mark the sovereign's birthday and claimed that British diplomats in the capital knew about Rushdie's honour. The newspaper also hypothesised that the controversial award was designed to draw attention away from late-night antics of Prince William and Prince Harry.
“The queen bitterly felt that while those infamous princes and that playboy of a crown prince do not make for good news, she has to take it onto herself to create headlines to make up for her court’s inferiority complex," the newspaper wrote. “The question is what the old British crone sought by knighting Rushdie: to help him? Well, her act only shortens Rushdie’s pathetic life."
In Lahore, members of Shabab-e-Mill, the youth wing of Pakistan’s radical Jamaat-e-Islami party, burned the Union Jack for the second day running and their leader, Shahid Gilani, said the group had decided "that we will from now on call every dog ’Sir’".
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