Controversial author visits USF

He’s known for his book, The Satanic Verses, and the subsequent death edict from the Iranian government that followed. And it was just more than 20 years ago that the prime minister of India, the late Indira Gandhi, filed a suit against him for his novel, Midnight’s Children.

Now, just four years removed from the $1-million bounty placed on his head by Ayatollah Khomeini, controversial figure Salman Rushdie comes to USF.

Rushdie will speak tonight at 7 at the Embassy Suites. The event is free to the public, but don’t plan on getting a seat.

USF originally reserved 300 seats to be dispersed on a first come, first served basis. Late last week, with all of the seats already taken, the school arranged for 100 more.

USF spokeswoman Marsha Strickhouser said Wednesday that out of the 400 available seats, only 12 remain.

Those interested in salvaging a last-minute attempt to see the speaker can call 974-2421.

Controversial USF professor Sami Al-Arian said Wednesday night he isn’t a fan of Rushdie but respects his right to express his opinions. Many Muslims, including Al-Arian, considered The Satanic Verses, blasphemous to Islam.

However, Al-Arian said he’s a bit confused with USF’s logic in sponsoring the event.

Al-Arian, who was banned from campus after receiving a series of death threats in 2001, wonders why Rushdie wasn’t treated similarly, considering his case has a worldwide audience.

“It’s absolutely a double standard,” Al-Arian said.

Double standard or not, Rushdie’s visit to USF is part of a larger plan. His appearance comes as the inaugural event to a new program aimed at bolstering humanities education at USF.

Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences Renu Khator said that faculty in the college are waging a campaign to ensure that liberal arts education opportunities at USF can be seized outside of the mandated general education requirements that all students must earn to graduate.

“How does one think about the deeper and the finer things in life and ask questions that go beyond your immediate job or occupation?” Khator asked.

The program will feature a new speaker every Thursday this month, and Khator hopes that by bringing academics onto campus, students will be inspired to ask those questions. It’s an attempt to create a “high level of intellectual vibrancy,” she said.

In addition, she said, the program strengthens USF’s chances of receiving the Phi Beta Kappa distinction, which recognizes excelling liberal arts education at universities and is arguably the most coveted distinction in academia.

Many USF faculty thought last year that the school had a good chance of making a run at the distinction but hit a roadblock while submitting its lengthy application for the award.

A Phi Beta Kappa official confirmed last year what many faculty feared: An AAUP censure for the university’s handling of Al-Arian could cost USF the distinction.

The application — which often exceeds 100 pages — is due in November. But a vote whether to induct USF wouldn’t happen until 2006. Should USF be censured, the next possible chance of acquiring the honor would be in 2009.