Salman Rushdie on ventilator after stabbing
Salman Rushdie on ventilator after stabbing

Salman Rushdie on ventilator after stabbing

NEW YORK: Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after an Iranian fatwa ordered his death, was on a ventilator and could lose an eye in a stabbing attack at a literary event in New York state on Friday. The British author of The Satanic Verses, which sparked outrage among Muslims who believed it was blasphemy, had to be airlifted to hospital for emergency surgery following the attack. His agent said in a statement obtained by The New York Times that “the news is not good.” “Salman will probably lose an eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged,” said Constable Andrew Wylie, who added that Rushdie was unable to speak. Carl LeVan, a politics professor at American University who attended the literary event, told AFP the attacker rushed onto the stage where Rushdie was sitting and “stabbed him repeatedly and viciously”. Several people ran onto the scene and took the suspect to the ground before a police officer present at the event arrested him. A doctor in the audience provided medical care until first responders arrived. New York State Police identified the alleged attacker as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old man from Fairfield, New Jersey, adding that he stabbed Rushdie in the neck as well as in the abdomen. The motive for the stabbing remains unclear.

An interviewer on the scene, Ralph Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury but was released from the hospital, police said. The attack took place at the Chautauqua Institution, which houses art programs in a quiet lakeside community 110 kilometers south of the city of Buffalo. “What many of us witnessed today was a violent expression of hatred that shook us to our core,” the Chautauqua Institution said in a statement. LeVan, a Chautauqua regular, said the suspect was “trying to stab him as many times as possible before he was subdued,” adding that he believed the man was “trying to kill” Rushdie. “There were gasps of horror and panic from the crowd,” the teacher said.

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A hidden decade

Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the limelight with his second novel Midnight’s Children in 1981, which won international praise and Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India. But his 1988 book The Satanic Verses changed his life when Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or religious decree, ordering his murder. The novel was considered by some Muslims to be disrespectful to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Iran’s conservative media welcomed the attack on Rushdie, with one state newspaper saying the “devil’s throat” had been “cut with a razor”. The ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan, whose chief is appointed by current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wrote: “Well done to this brave and duty-conscious man who attacked the apostate and depraved Salman Rushdie in New York.”

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Rushdie, who was born in India to non-practicing Muslims and identifies as an atheist, was forced into hiding because there was a bounty on his head. He was granted police protection by the UK government, where he attended school and made his home, following the murder or attempted murder of his translators and editors. He spent nearly a decade in hiding, moving houses repeatedly and unable to tell even his own children where he lived.

Rushdie only began to emerge from his life on the run in the late 1990s, after Iran in 1998 declared it would not support his assassination. Now living in New York, he is an advocate for free speech, notably launching a strong defense of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo after its staff were shot by Islamists in Paris in 2015. The magazine had published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH ) which drew angry reactions from Muslims around the world.

World leaders expressed their anger at the attack on Rushdie, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying the author “embodied freedom” and that “his battle is ours, a universal one”. British leader Boris Johnson meanwhile said he was “horrified”, sending thoughts to Rushdie’s loved ones and praising the author for “exercising a right we should never stop defending”. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan called it a “reprehensible attack”, adding that “everyone in the Biden-Harris administration is praying for his speedy recovery”.

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An “Essential Voice”

Threats and boycotts continue against literary events Rushdie attends, and his knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007 sparked protests in Iran and Pakistan, where a government minister said the honor justified suicide bombings. The fatwa and other threats failed to stifle Rushdie’s writing and inspired his memoir “Joseph Anton,” named after his pen name while in hiding and written in the third person. “Midnight’s Children” — which is more than 600 pages long — has been adapted for the stage and silver screen, and its books have been translated into more than 40 languages.

Suzanne Nossel, head of PEN America, said the free speech advocacy group was “reeling in shock and horror.” “Just a few hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman sent me an email to help with jobs for Ukrainian writers who need a safe haven from the serious dangers they face,” said Nossel in a statement. “Our thoughts and passions are now with our unbroken Salman, wishing him a full and speedy recovery. We hope and fervently believe that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”