10 OCTOBER 1998, Page 32

Hidden censorship

Sir: Although the Iranian change of heart over Salman Rushdie is welcome, the fact remains that the Rushdie affair has already inflicted tremendous damage on freedom of expression in this country.

Before the publication of The Satanic Vers- es, publishers were free to select manuscripts on the basis of literary merit and commercial considerations. The Rushdie affair has added an extra dimension: Muslim sensibility. In today's Britain, any book which remotely touches Islam is vetted by publishers and anything with potential to offend Muslims is either diluted or omitted.

It is ironic that the real winner in the Rushdie affair has been neither Mr Rushdie nor the Iranian government, but Muslim activists who, through threat of vio- lence and intimidation, have managed to impose an unwritten censorship law on British publishers: the law which implies that Muslim sensibilities must take prece- dence over freedom of expression.

Randhir Singh Bains

34 Shere Road, Gants Hill, Essex