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34 years after Satanic Verses, author Salman Rushdie stabbed

Wounded on stage at New York event
Updated 12 Aug, 2022 11:27pm

Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked on stage at an event in New York and suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, according to New York State Police and an eyewitness.

A man rushed to the stage at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state and attacked Rushdie as he was being introduced to give a talk on artistic freedom, an eyewitness said. A State Trooper present at the event took the attacker into custody, police said.

  • Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa against him was unusual as it carried a reward. The reward was renewed to $600,000 in 2016
  • Fatwas can generally only be taken back by the person who issued them. In this case, the Ayatollah passed away
  • The publisher in Norway and a Japanese translator have been attacked
  • Salman Rushdie went into hiding for almost ten years after the protests
  • India was one of the first countries to ban the book

An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and begin punching or stabbing him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced. The 75-year-old author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was arrested.

Rushdie was taken by helicopter to a hospital but his condition was not yet known, police said. The police statement gave no motive for the attack.

Rushdie fell to the floor when the man attacked him, and was then surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, seemingly to send more blood to his upper body, as the attacker was restrained, according to a witness attending the lecture who asked not to be named.

“We are dealing with an emergency situation,” a Chautauqua Institution spokesperson said when contacted by Reuters.

Rushdie, who was born into an Indian Muslim family, has faced death threats for his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims said contained blasphemous passages. The novel was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations upon its 1988 publication.

A year later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, pronounced a fatwa, or religious edict, calling upon Muslims to kill the novelist for blasphemy.

Rushdie went into hiding for many years. The Iranian government said in 1998 it would no longer back the fatwa, and Rushdie has lived relatively openly in recent years. Iranian organizations, however, have raised a bounty worth millions of dollars for Rushdie’s murder.

Rushdie being taken to a helicopter on a stretcher
Rushdie being taken to a helicopter on a stretcher

Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and “as a home for freedom of creative expression,” according to the institution’s website.

He became an American citizen in 2016 and lives in New York City. He has been critical of oppression in his native India, including under the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Wylie Agency, which represents Rushdie, did not respond to a request for comment.

PEN America, an advocacy group for freedom of expression of which Rushdie is a former president, said it was “reeling from shock and horror” on what it called an unprecedented attack on a writer in the United States.

“Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” Suzanne Nossel, PEN’s chief executive, said in the statement. Earlier in the morning, Rushdie had emailed her to help with relocating Ukrainian writers seeking refuge, she said.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York called it “an attack on freedom of speech and thought.”

Salman Rushdie was born in 1947 to a Kashmiri Muslim family. He grew up in England, Pakistan and India. His first novel was called Grimus. But it was his second novel Midnight’s Children that won him the prestigious Booker prize in 1981.

Seven years later he published the The Satanic Verses and by 1989 the fatwa was issued, calling for his death. The first attempt to kill him came months after the fatwa when a bomb was planted by a Lebanese man. Two years later, the Japanese translator of the novel was stabbed to death.

When the new Ayatollah took over, in 1998 he said that the Iranian government would neither support nor stymie Rushdie’s assassination.

In 2007, Rushdie was granted an OBE or knighthood, leading to protests in Muslim countries. Three years later he found himself on an Al Qaeda hit-list.

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