Novelist Salman Rushdie on ventilator after New York stabbing

NEW YORK, Aug. 12 (Reuters) – Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born writer who went into hiding for years after Iran urged Muslims to kill him for his writing, was found dead on stage in Hals and at a lecture in upstate New York Upper body stabbed Friday and flown to a hospital, police said.

After hours of surgery, Rushdie was on a ventilator Friday night and unable to speak following an attack that has been condemned by writers and politicians around the world as an attack on freedom of expression.

“The news is not good,” wrote Andrew Wylie, his books agent, in an email. “Salman is likely to lose an eye; the nerves in his arm have been severed; and his liver has been stabbed and damaged.”

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Rushdie, 75, was being introduced to give a talk on artistic freedom to hundreds of people at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York when a man stormed the stage and lunged at the novelist, who has been living on a bounty since death 1980s.

Stunned attendees helped snatch the man from Rushdie, who had fallen to the ground. A New York State Police soldier who was 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 bought a pass for the event.

“A man jumped out of I don’t know where onto the stage and started hitting him with something in the chest, repeated punches in his chest and neck,” said Bradley Fisher, who was in the audience. “People screamed and screamed and gasped.”

A doctor in the audience helped tend to Rushdie while emergency services arrived, police said. Henry Reese, the event’s host, suffered a minor head injury. Police said they are working with federal investigators to determine a motive. You did not describe the weapon used.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called the incident “appalling”. “We are grateful to the good citizens and first responders for helping him so quickly,” he wrote on Twitter.

Rushdie, who was born to a Kashmiri Muslim family in Bombay, now Mumbai, before moving to the UK, faced lengthy death threats over his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses.

Some Muslims said the book contained blasphemous passages. After its release in 1988, it was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations.

A few months later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader at the time, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling on Muslims to kill the writer and anyone involved in the book’s publication for blasphemy.

Rushdie, who called his novel “pretty bland,” went into hiding for nearly a decade. Hitoshi Igarashi, the novel’s Japanese translator, was assassinated in 1991. The Iranian government said it would no longer support the fatwa in 1998, and Rushdie has lived relatively openly in recent years.

Iranian organizations, some linked to the government, have put up a million-dollar bounty for 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, in his account of Friday’s attack, called Rushdie an apostate who “insulted the Prophet.”


Rushdie published a memoir about his monastic, secret life in 2012 under the fatwa called “Joseph Anton”, the pseudonym he used in British police protection. His second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the Booker Prize. His new novel Victory City is due out in February.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was appalled that Rushdie “was stabbed while exercising a right we should never stop defending”.

Rushdie was at the western New York institution to discuss how the United States is granting asylum to artists in exile and “as a home for freedom of creative expression,” according to the institution’s website.

There were no obvious security checks at the Chautauqua Institution, a landmark established in the 19th-century small lakeside town of the same name; Staff simply checked people’s passports for admission, participants said.

“I felt like we need more protection there because Salman Rushdie is not your ordinary writer,” said Anour Rahmani, an Algerian writer and human rights activist who was in the audience. “He’s a writer with a fatwa against him.”

Michael Hill, the institution’s president, said at a news conference they had a practice of working with state and local police to ensure the event’s security. He promised the summer program would resume soon.

“Our whole goal is to help people bridge a world that is too divided,” Hill said. “The worst thing Chautauqua could do is retire from his mission in the face of this tragedy, and I don’t think Mr. Rushdie would want that.”

Rushdie became a US citizen in 2016 and lives in New York City.

A self-proclaimed apostate Muslim and “hard-lined atheist,” he was a bitter critic of religion across the spectrum and has spoken out openly about oppression in his native India, including under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

PEN America, a free speech advocacy group of which Rushdie is a former president, said it was “shocked and horrified” at what it called an unprecedented attack on a writer in the United States. Continue reading

“Salman Rushdie has been targeted for decades for his words but has never flinched or faltered,” PEN chief executive Suzanne Nossel said in the statement. Earlier in the morning, Rushdie emailed her to help relocate Ukrainian writers seeking refuge, she said.

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Reporting from Kanishka Singh in Washington, Jonathan Allen, Randi Love and Tyler Clifford in New York and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, Andrew Hay and Costas Pitas; Edited by Alistair Bell, Daniel Wallis and Michael Perry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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