Rushdie Still Likes the Sandanistas

The man who is very likely the most famous novelist in the world made it clear last week that he has not changed his favorable opinion of two decades ago about the former Marxist-Leninist regime in Nicaragua. In an on-line response to a query from HUMAN EVENTS’ John Gizzi, Salman Rushdie–best known for the $5 million bounty placed on his head by the Ayatollah Khomeni in 1989–wrote that "I haven’t changed my mind about the Sandanistas of those days, the mid-1980’s."

From his London home, Rushdie went on to denounce the Reagan Administration’s efforts to upend the regime of President Daniel Ortega, who was later defeated for re-election and has since lost two comeback attempts at the polls. "It would have been easy to make Nicaragua an ally of the U.S.," Rushdie wrote Gizzi, "the decision to smash it instead was one I oppose then and still do."

Gizzi reached Rushdie by participating in the Washington Post’s chatroom, in which the best-selling author was featured two days after his latest novel, Shalimar the Clown, was reviewed in the Post Book World. Recalling Rushdie’s 1987 book, The Jaguar Smile, which was widely considered a favorable portrait of Ortega’s Marxist-Leninist regime, and the novelist’s 1986 visit with leaders of the Nicaraguan regime, Gizzi inquired whether he still felt positively about the former president who has since been defeated repeatedly at the polls (and is attempting yet another bid for his old job this year).

"I haven’t changed my mind about the Sandanistas of those days, the mid-1980’s" replied Rushdie, "and my mind was rather more critical than you suggest."

Gizzi thereupon countered that Rushdie was a sponsor of the pro-Sandanista Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign in London and said of Ortega and his associates: "They struck me as men of integrity and great pragmatism, with an astonishing lack of bitterness toward their opponents, past or present."

"I was critical of the Sandanistas’ restrictions on free speech and express my dislike of the evasiveness of the minister of culture, Ernesto Cardenal," insisted Rushdie, "However, it was plain to me that this was not a purely Marxist-Leninist regime. Some of the Sandanista directorate were Marxists (the Ortega brothers, Tomas Borge), others were businessmen and intellectuals. It would have been easy to make Nicaragua an ally of the U.S.; the decision to smash it instead was one I opposed then and still do. Of course, Daniel Ortega has turned out to be worse than anyone knew at the time. But he was not the whole story, then or now."

With the fatwah (death sentence) imposed on him by Khomeni for writing a book that allegedly mocked Islam (Satanic Verses) Rushdie lived in hiding for nine years until the Iranian government lifted the sentence in 1998. Although he was never harmed, a publisher of his books was shot and a translator of Rushdie’s works was stabbed. Both recovered, but another Rushdie translator was murdered. One of those who defended Rushdie’s right to publish Satanic Verses was British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, long a subject of criticism by London resident Rushdie. Asked by another chatroom participant whether he had thanked Thatcher in public for her support, Rushdie replied: "Yes. Often. But it doesn’t change my mind about her government in general."