Editorial comment: A victory over terrorism
At about 5 in the morning on Feb. 28, 1989, two men emerged from a compact car parked on Broadway, crossed the street, and hurled three Molotov cocktails at the unprotected front windows of The Riverdale Press.
The ensuing blaze was so fierce that the computers and telephones in the newspaper’s front office vaporized.
The crew of an ambulance headed for the then-Hebrew Home for the Aged saw the terrorists throw the firebombs, run back to their car and speed north to the Henry Hudson Parkway, making their escape.
A short time later, a man called 911 and said, in an accent the FBI later identified as Pakistani, “Can you please listen to my message very carefully. Very very important. You know that British author who wrote the book The Satanic Verses. For to protest I throw the bomb. I’m sorry but we got to do more bombs pretty soon if they don’t stop from publish that book. That’s it.”
Two weeks earlier, the novelist Salman Rushdie had gone into hiding when Iran’s “supreme leader” Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a death sentence on him for writing a novel that questions the founding myth of Islam. Khomeini’s fatwa offered a bounty of more than $5 million to anyone who could kill the author. It also threatened “all those involved in its publication.”
In the Feb. 23 issue of The Press, which was still on the newsstands that terrible Tuesday, an editorial headlined “The tyrant and his chains” denounced the decision of Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble and B. Dalton, which responded to Khomeini’s threat by removing the book from the shelves of their 2,500 stores. It contrasted their cowardice to the courage of Paperbacks Plus, the little Riverdale Avenue bookstore that had decided to sell the book, despite fear of retaliation.