Disses and Death Threats: Rapper in Germany Fears for Life after Fatwa

Part 2: 'Najafi Is in Mortal Danger'

Photo Gallery: A Price on His Head Photos
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It makes the whole world a dangerous place for Najafi. "Grand Ayatollah Golpayegani is an important religious authority. For his devotees, his fatwa is compulsory," says Ralph Ghadban, who has been an Islam scholar at the Protestant University of Applied Science in Berlin for many years. The consequence, Ghadban explains, is that "if one of these religious devotees lives in Germany, he is compelled to carry out the fatwa immediately. That's when the situation becomes very serious."

Rauf Ceylan, an expert on Islam in the western city of Osnabrück, also sees the situation as extremely explosive. "Najafi is in mortal danger. There are also radicalized Shiites here, and it can't be ruled out that individual perpetrators could make it their business to carry out the fatwa."

Assassination Order

This was presumably the case in the Azerbaijani capital Baku last November, when an unknown assailant stabbed journalist Rafiq Tagi six times. Tagi died in a hospital four days later, but he still had enough strength to say whom he held responsible for the attack: Iranian agents and Muslim fundamentalists. He had written an article in 2006 in which he argued that Islam and democracy were incompatible. But he had also included a few references to the Prophet Muhammad that were perceived as critical. Soon afterwards, several Iranian ayatollahs issued fatwas in which Tagi was sentenced to death.

Salman Rushdie did survive, but after the assassination order was issued, his life no longer resembled the life the writer had led -- and loved -- until then. On Feb. 14, 1989, the Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini called for Rushdie's assassination, for the alleged crime of blasphemy. The fatwa was triggered by the novel "The Satanic Verses," in which Rushdie described the Prophet Muhammad as a power seeker, and also allegedly insulted his wives.

A bounty of several million dollars was placed on the author's head. He lived under police protection for years, and a Japanese translator of his book was murdered. No German publishing house dared to publish "The Satanic Verses" on its own. Only when several publishers joined forces to form the "Article 19" publishing house was the book published, under the sponsorship of many prominent individuals, including author Hans Magnus Enzensberger and politician Norbert Blüm.

For years, Rushdie lived with the strictest of security precautions, always in the expectation that every day would be his last. Then, in 1998, the Iranian government distanced itself from the death threat, but in that same year a Tehran foundation increased the bounty. It wasn't until June of 2001 that then President Mohammad Khatami described the Rushdie affair as "completely finished." But is it really? Rushdie still receives threats regularly, without knowing whether they are meant seriously.

Validating Prejudices

And now Najafi is in the same position. Agitators on the Internet are already wishing him death and eternal damnation, and the wave is only beginning to build. On several Facebook pages, users have called for his execution. The calls are accompanied by various provocative images, including a photo of the rapper's head in crosshairs, and a doctored image of a bullet hole in his neck and another of his head mounted on the outline of a dog.

On the other side are the cohorts of outraged bloggers who formed their opinions about the Islamic world long ago: the Tundra Tabloids, a Scandinavian blog critical of Islam, conservative Catholic websites and, of course, the Republican bloggers aligned with the Tea Party in the United States. They too are using the Najafi case as a model and a means of validating their prejudices, and the wave they have triggered is also beginning to build.

Who Najafi is, and what he wants, isn't even important anymore. For both sides, the rapper from Cologne is merely a pawn in a chess game. The more he moves to the center of the board, the more dangerous his life becomes. His last defense is now the police.

No one, including Najafi, knows how this will continue in the long term. In fact, Najafi is so much in the dark about the future that he doesn't even worry about it at the moment. Until now, he was an Iranian exile who could make ends meet as a musician, because his fellow Iranians in America and Europe supported him, and he was able to go on tour and earn money. And now? Should he stop being a performer? Friends have told him that prisoners have scribbled some of the lyrics of his songs on prison walls in Iran, says Najafi. And now Najafi himself is in a prison of sorts.

'I Can't Hide'

"I'll keep going. I know that," he told SPIEGEL. "I can't hide. I just have to be careful. I have to perform. I'm a musician. But that's a problem now."

Is he afraid for his life? Najafi says nothing.

Does the fatwa reach all the way to Germany? "How should I know?" he asks, taking a deep breath. "They don't joke around." Then there is a long moment of silence on the line.

REPORTED BY GEORG BÖNISCH, JÜRGEN DAHLKAMP, ÖZLEM GEZER, RALF HOPPE, TOBIAS RAPP, MARTIN WOLF AND BERNHARD ZAND

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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