(photo credit: AP [file])
Britain will not apologize for its decision to bestow a knighthood on writer Salman Rushdie, Home Secretary John Reid said Wednesday, highlighting the need to protect freedom of expression in literature and politics.
"We have a set of values that accrues people honors for their contribution to literature even when they don't agree with our point of view," Reid said in response to a question after a speech to US business leaders in New York.
"We have a right to express opinions and a tolerance of other people's point of view, and we don't apologize for that," Reid said.
Reid's comments came a day after street protesters in Pakistan burned effigies of Rushdie and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, and a Pakistani minister said the award could justify suicide bombings.
Also, Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to complain over the decision to grant the knighthood.
In the meeting, Iranian Foreign Ministry official Ebrahim Rahimpour told ambassador Jeffrey Adams that the decision was a "provocative act" that has angered Muslims.
Adams said Rushdie was being honored for his works of literature and underlined that the British government respects Islam, the state Islamic Republic News Agency said.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said during a visit to London that he respected the right of Britain to decide who received the honor. But he said the decision could be used to cause trouble.
"Iraq is a Muslim country," he said. "We believe that, with all due respect to the knighthood, I think it was untimely."
Britain announced Saturday that it would award Rushdie a knighthood, along with honoring CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour and several others.
Iran's late spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a 1989 fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill the writer because his book, The Satanic Verses, allegedly insulted Islam.
The threat forced Rushdie to live in hiding for a decade.
Rushdie is one of the most prominent novelists of the late 20th century and is known for his unique mix of history with magical realism.