New York: Salman Rushdie, the Mumbai-born controversial author who faced Islamist death threats for years after writing ‘The Satanic Verses’, was stabbed and suffered multiple wounds to the neck and is in surgery after a man stormed the stage as he was about to deliver a lecture during an event here on Friday.
Rushdie, 75, who won the Booker Prize for his novel ‘Midnight’s Children’, was stabbed by a man on stage while he was being introduced at the event of the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York.
He fell through a barrier to the stage and was seen with blood on his hands. The audience tackled the attacker and Rushdie was then treated onstage following the assault.
“State Police are investigating an attack on author Salman Rushdie prior to a speaking event at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, NY. On August 12, 2022, at about 11 a.m., a male suspect ran up onto the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer,” New York Police said in a statement.
“Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known. The interviewer suffered a minor head injury. A State Trooper assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody. The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office assisted at the scene,” it said.
Rushdie’s fourth book The Satanic Verses in 1988 forced him into hiding for nine years.
A year after the book’s publication, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for Rushdie’s execution for publishing the book for its blasphemous content.
Since the 1980s, Rushdie’s writing has led to death threats from Iran, which has offered a USD 3 million reward for anyone who kills him.
”Thank you to the swift response of @nyspolice & first responders following today’s attack of author Salman Rushdie. Our thoughts are with Salman & his loved ones following this horrific event. I have directed State Police to further assist however needed in the investigation,” said New York State Governor Kathy Hochul.
“It is heartbreaking to learn that within the last hour, a prominent individual, Salman Rushdie, was attacked on a stage in western New York just before he was about to give a speech. He is alive, he has been transported, airlifted to safety,” Hochul said in remarks at an event on ‘Preventing Gun Violence, Protecting New Yorkers’.
The New York Times quoted Rushdie’s agent Andrew Wylie as saying that the writer was in surgery. The report added that Wylie did not have an update on Rushdie’s condition.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain said in a Twitter post that he was “appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend. Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay.”
Conservative Indian-origin leadership candidate Rishi Sunak said he was ”shocked” to hear of the attack on Rushdie, who he called ”a champion of free speech and artistic freedom”.
“Shocked to hear of the attack on Salman Rushdie in New York. A champion of free speech and artistic freedom. He’s in our thoughts tonight,” he said in a tweet.
A leading literary organisation expressed “shock and horror” at the “brutal, premeditated” attack on Rushdie.
“PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former President and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie, who was reportedly stabbed multiple times while on stage speaking at the Chautauqua Institute in upstate New York,” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil. While we do not know the origins or motives of this attack, all those around the world who have met words with violence or called for the same are culpable for legitimising this an assault on a writer while he was engaged in his essential work of connecting to readers,” she said.
Nossel said that just hours before the attack, Salman had emailed her to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face.
“Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered. He has devoted tireless energy to assisting others who are vulnerable and menaced. Our thoughts and passions now lie with our dauntless Salman, wishing him a full and speedy recovery. We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced,” Nossel said.
Several users on the social media site posted visuals from the event in Chautauqua, New York that showed emergency medical crews and other authorities on stage at the event where Rushdie was reportedly stabbed.
One Twitter user said the amphitheater where the event was being held has been evacuated and Rushdie was taken off the stage while the attacker is in custody.
Chautauqua Institution, where at an event Rushdie was stabbed, said it is focussing on coordinating with police officials following the “tragic” incident. Chautauqua Institution is a not-for-profit community on Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State, where approximately 7,500 persons are in residence on any day during a nine-week season, and a total of more than 100,000 attend scheduled public events.
“We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, and patience as we fully focus on coordinating with police officials following a tragic incident at the Amphitheater today. All programs are canceled for the remainder of the day,” the institution tweeted.
Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution on August 12 for a special Chautauqua Lecture Series event exploring the Week Seven theme of ‘More than Shelter’, joined by Henry Reese, co-founder of the Pittsburgh nonprofit City of Asylum — the largest residency programme in the world for writers living in exile under threat of persecution — for a discussion of the United States as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.
“One of the most celebrated authors of our time, Salman Rushdie is the author of 14 novels, four works of nonfiction and a collection of short stories, in addition to serving as co-editor of two anthologies,” the institute said.
The winner of many of the world’s top literary prizes, Rushdie served as founding president in 1994 of the International Parliament of Writers (now the International Network of Cities of Asylum) — an organisation formed to create structures capable of aiding and supporting persecuted writers, and what eventually became known as the Cities of Asylum Network, it said.
Rushdie’s works include Luka and the Fire of Life; Grimus; Midnight’s Children (for which he won the Booker Prize and, later, the Best of the Booker); Shame; The Satanic Verses; Haroun and the Sea of Stories; The Moor’s Last Sigh; The Ground Beneath Her Feet; Fury; Shalimar the Clown among others.
His memoir is titled Joseph Anton —named for the pseudonym he used while in hiding following the fatwa that had been issued by Khomeini in the midst of widespread controversy over Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.”