Controversial Author’s Lecture Prompts High Security At Otterbein

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Salman Rushdie is one of the most celebrated authors of our time, but there are few who still want to see him dead. That is why there is concern and caution surrounding his speaking Thursday night at Otterbein University.

Law enforcement prepared for Rushdie’s lecture days in advance. On Thursday, SWAT members, bomb sniffing dogs and officers from the Otterbein, Westerville and Genoa Township police departments were on campus.

All were working to secure the campus, including Cowan Hall, where Rushdie was to speak to students, staff and community members. The author is highly acclaimed and also controversial; in fact, there is still a bounty on his head.

10TV spoke with students on campus who said the death threats didn’t concern them. Tori Hidalgo said, “I think it is really courageous. I don't know if I would consider it concerning; I guess it does have an element of excitement to it.”

Anna Mulhall said, “I personally wasn't concerned. As an artist, risks come with it, people either like what you do or not.”

Rushdie has appeared on multiple national television shows. He now leads a public life, but he was forced to spend a decade in hiding after the then leader of Iran issued a fatwa or order to have him killed for alleged blasphemy.

Geoff Barstow, assistant professor of religion at Otterbein, said the way he understands it, the fatwa has not been revoked, but the Iranian government has announced that it has no intention of carrying it out.

Rushdie now speaks to students all over the world on a wide range of topics, which is why Barstow said it makes sense to bring Rushdie to Otterbein.

“He brings a wealth of experience in really the corridors of the most important issues of the 20th century that our students could most definitely learn from,” Barstow said.

Thursday night’s lecture was sold out. University officials say Rushdie will be back on campus on Friday to speak to English and religion classes.