"I’m not a reflex anti-war guy," Rushdie said. "The arguments that should be taking place in this society aren’t taking place."
Rushdie’s talk at Lehigh, held at Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall was sponsored by the Visiting Lectures and Kenner Lecture Series committees. The author, who is perhaps best known for the death threat leveled against him by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni over his novel, The Satanic Verses, said he has heard little discussion about the consequences of war.
Rushdie said he has talked with Iraqi resistance leaders who told him that, once Saddam Hussein is deposed, American troops will need to remain in the country for five years. "No one is asking the question: Are we up for 100,000 American troops staying in Iraq for five years?" Rushdie said.
Rushdie’s comments on Iraq came in a question and answer session that followed an hour-long talk that was laced with wry humor and touched on writing, celebrity, religion, terrorism, science, rock music, and philosophy.
He also read from his latest book, Step Across This Line, a non-fiction compilation of essays and columns written while he taught at Yale University in 2002.
`One of us is dead’
Rushdie declined to comment extensively on his years spent in hiding after the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni claimed that The Satanic Verses blasphemed Islam and issued a fatwa on the author in 1989.
"One of the things I’m not going to say very much about is the second-rate literary critic from Iran," he said as he took the podium. "Except to say that one of us is dead."
He later quipped that the controversy over his book "was a struggle between people who had a sense of humor and people who didn’t." While acknowledging that Satanic Verses "takes a very questioning, dissenting view of religious verities," Rushdie said his use of satire was responsible for much of the furor his book caused.
"Comedy is what gets up people’s noses," he said.
In the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Rushdie said it is important for people to not give in to fear—a lesson he learned during his years in hiding.
"You’ve just got to put fear over there," he said, gesturing toward the side of the stage, "and forget about it. There’s no other way of functioning. The problem with fear is that if you let it in, it takes over everything else."
`My little Valentine’
Earlier, in a private interview, Rushdie addressed recent world events and expressed his skepticism about potential plans for the U.S. to invade Iraq.
"There are many good reasons to criticize American motivations in Iraq," he said. "I don’t believe Saddam Hussein’s power to attack the U.S. or Israel is very real. I don’t buy the argument that we must get rid of Saddam Hussein because of that. But what Saddam Hussein has done in three and half decades in Iraq makes it difficult to oppose an attempt to unseat him.
"There is no guarantee that democracy will emerge in the new Iraq," he continued. "If the invasion takes three days, three weeks, three months, then what?"
He did, however, praise the American action in Afghanistan.
"It was quite straightforward," he said. "The fall of the Taliban was a gain for the human race. The destruction of al-Qaeda and the al-Qaeda-Taliban complicity has made it much more difficult for further terrorist actions."
Rushdie was dismissive of the numerous death threats against him as a result of a recently re-issued fatwa that offers his killer $3 million from the Iranian revolutionary government, and admitted that it is a topic of endless fascination for his readers.
"Every year on the anniversary of the original fatwa in 1989, they make some ritual noise," he said. "Not to worry. This is not of any consequence. It is just a nasty remark. Every February 14, it is my little Valentine."