About 150 people assembled in Los Angeles on Wednesday night to hear local writers read and discuss the works of Salman Rushdie and to show their support for him in the face of the threats against his life.
"We are gathered to show our solidarity and our commitment to the fundamental freedom of writers to write and to publish without the threat of death and for readers to choose the books they would buy without similar threats of violence," said Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, a novelist who is president of PEN Center U.S.A. West, sponsor of the event.
Leedom-Ackerman said she is also concerned that the uproar sparked by reaction to "The Satanic Verses" could lead to "an igniting of prejudice within our communities."
Among the readers and speakers were feminist writer Betty Friedan, now teaching at USC, futurist Alvin Toffler and novelists Lawrence Thornton, T. Coraghessan Boyle and Roberta Smoodin, who read the passage from "The Satanic Verses" that Muslims singled out as blasphemous.
The gathering, held at The Times, was open only to PEN members and the press.
"As a writer whose ideas are associated with the rights of women and the unfinished 'revolution,' I myself have experienced bomb threats," Friedan said. " . . . One reason Rushdie's work has offended (Muslims) is that he is critical of (their) treatment of women."
Explaining why Muslims find "The Satanic Verses" objectionable, Carl W. Ernst, a professor of religious studies at Pomona College, said, "The book does have a mischievous spirit."
Rushdie, a native of Bombay, India, who emigrated to England at the age of 14, "has lost the ties with his community," according to Ernst. To Muslims, he said, the novel suggests "the triumph of colonialism over their own culture."
PEN Center U.S.A. West, which has 450 members, is affiliated with the center in New York that also sponsored readings Wednesday.