'Blasphemous' author Rushdie severely wounded by attacker in New York
NEW YORK (REUTERS) – Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born novelist who spent years in hiding after Iran urged Muslims to kill him, was stabbed in the neck and torso onstage at a lecture in New York state on Friday and airlifted to a hospital, police said.
After hours of surgery, Mr Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak on Friday evening after an attack condemned by writers and politicians around the world as an assault on the freedom of expression.
“The news is not good,” Mr Andrew Wylie, his book agent, wrote in an email. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”
Mr Rushdie, 75, was being introduced to give a talk to an audience of hundreds on artistic freedom at western New York’s Chautauqua Institution when a man rushed to the stage and lunged at the novelist, who has lived with a bounty on his head since the late 1980s.
Stunned attendees helped wrest the man from Mr Rushdie, who had fallen to the floor.
A New York State Police trooper providing security at the event arrested the attacker.
Police identified the suspect as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old man from Fairview, New Jersey, who had bought a pass to the event.
“A man jumped up on the stage from I don’t know where and started what looked like beating him on the chest, repeated fist strokes into his chest and neck,” said Mr Bradley Fisher, who was in the audience. “People were screaming and crying out and gasping.”
A doctor in the audience helped tend to Mr Rushdie while emergency services arrived, police said.
Mr Henry Reese, the event’s moderator, suffered a minor head injury.
Police said they were working with federal investigators to determine a motive. They did not describe the weapon used.
Mr Rushdie, who was born into a Kashmiri Muslim family in Bombay, now Mumbai, before moving to the United Kingdom, has long faced death threats for his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses.
Some Muslims consider the book blasphemous. It was banned in many countries upon its publication in 1988.
A few months later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, pronounced a fatwa, or religious edict, calling upon Muslims to kill the novelist and anyone involved in the book’s publication, for blasphemy.
Mr Rushdie, who called his novel “pretty mild,” went into hiding for nearly a decade.
Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the novel, was murdered in 1991.
The Iranian government said in 1998 it would no longer back the fatwa, and Mr Rushdie has lived relatively openly in recent years.
But Iranian organisations, some affiliated with the government, have raised a bounty worth millions of dollars for Mr Rushdie’s murder. And Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said as recently as 2019 that the fatwa was“irrevocable”.
Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency and other news outlets donated money in 2016 to increase the bounty by $600,000.
Fars called Mr Rushdie an apostate who “insulted the prophet” in its report on Friday’s attack.
Mr Rushdie published a memoir in 2012 about his cloistered, secretive life under the fatwa called Joseph Anton, the pseudonym he used while in British police protection.
His second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the Booker Prize. His latest novel Victory City is due to be published next February.
Mr Rushdie became a US citizen in 2016 and lives in New York City. A self-described lapsed Muslim and “hard-line atheist”, he has been a fierce critic of religion across the spectrum and outspoken about oppression in his native India, including under the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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