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After nine years in hiding from the Iranian government because of the death sentence he received in 1989, writer and activist Salman Rushdie re-entered the limelight in 1998 -- and tomorrow, students can see him on Penn's stage. Interest in the event has been "tremendous," said Arthur Bochner, College junior and Philomathean Society moderator. "People are pretty excited at every level," Social Planning and Events Committee Co-Director Lisa Perez added. Rushdie is the Philomathean Society's annual speaker for 2003 and will deliver a talk tomorrow entitled, "Step Across This Line: An Evening with Salman Rushdie" in Irvine Auditorium. Judging from entries in the lottery, the organization seems to have been successful in drawing interest in the event. Over 2,000 students entered the lottery to win a set of two tickets, and about 600 people won. The event is expected to draw a full house, but College senior and Co-Director of SPEC's Connaissance branch Tim McCarten said the auditorium must be filled by 6 p.m. on Tuesday. Therefore, at ten minutes before 6 p.m., Irvine's doors will be opened for students who did not win tickets. Some students' expectations, however, aren't too lofty. "I'm just sort of going to hear him speak and hopefully be able to draw something from it," College junior Meredith Gamer said. "I would be interested to hear his comments on the current political issues with Iraq.... But I could understand if he chose not to address that." "I would like him to address theological questions," Wharton senior Mehdi El Hajoui said. "I think he might be a little more focused on political issues.... I see him more as a popular man speaking rather than a scholar." Rushdie's 1989 book The Satanic Verses incited the Iranian government to issue the fatwa -- a religious edict which condemned Rushdie to death. Regardless of the threat to his life, Rushdie continued writing while in hiding. The British government protected Rushdie until Iran lifted the edict in 1998. At the event tomorrow, Rushdie will discuss the collection of essays he wrote while in hiding, also entitled Step Across This Line. In addition to addressing his life under the fatwa, "I imagine he will talk about current events in both literature and the world," Bochner said. "He's a symbol for intellectual freedom over his entire career, but particularly since the fatwa was issued," McCarten said. "He continued writing despite the dangers of doing so." The Philomathean Society worked extensively to pick an interesting, relevant speaker, Bochner explained. "We were looking for someone whose talk would be timely... and would appeal to a wide range [of people] within the campus community," Bochner continued. To explore various contexts of Rushdie's work, the Philomathean Society sponsored several well-attended pre-Rushdie events this past week, including a film screening and discussions with University professors, Bochner said. "His work is of great significance," Perez said. "From an academic standpoint, we think he has a lot to offer... and [the talk] is timely."

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