John le Carré and Salman Rushdie end 23-year feud
'Pompous ass' Le Carré and 'self-righteous' Rushdie regret falling out over The Satanic Verses
ONE OF THE great literary feuds has come to end after John le Carré and Salman Rushdie said they regretted falling out over the freedom to insult religion.
The feud was played out in the letters pages of The Guardian in 1997, but had its roots in le Carré's attempt in 1989 to persuade Rushdie to halt distribution of the paperback version of his book The Satanic Verses because of the threat of violence by Muslims against innocent booksellers.
Eight years later, le Carré – pen-name for David Cornwell - expressed frustration at a review in which he had been accused of anti-Semitism for including a Judas-style character in his book The Tailor of Panama.
Rushdie wrote a letter to The Guardian saying he was unable to sympathise with Le Carré because he had been "so ready to join in an earlier campaign of vilification against a fellow writer".
Le Carré responded by accusing Rushdie of being "arrogant", "self-righteous" and "self-serving". He explained that in suggesting distribution of The Satanic Verses be halted he was "more concerned about the girl in Penguin Books who might get her hands blown off in the mail room than I was about Rushdie's royalties".
Rushdie responded: "I'm grateful to John le Carré for refreshing all our memories about exactly how pompous an ass he can be."
Last month at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Rushdie said of the feud: "I wish we hadn't done it. He's a writer I really admire. I think of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as one of the great novels of postwar Britain."
And today, Le Carré confirmed to The Times that the hatchet has indeed been buried. "I too regret the dispute," he said. "I admire Salman for his work and his courage, and I respect his stand."
But the spy writer continues to believe that Rushdie should have expected the wave of Muslim outrage against The Satanic Verses.
"Should we be free to burn Korans, mock the passionately held religions of others? Maybe we should - but should we also be surprised when the believers we have offended respond in fury? I couldn't answer that question at the time and, with all good will, I still can't."