Writer who was target of Iranian fatwa for ‘Satanic Verses’ book attacked in US
A man was last night taken into custody after writer Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the neck on stage in the US.
The 75-year-old Indian-born British author, whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York state when the incident occurred.
Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck and was transported to hospital by helicopter.
The writer’s agent Andrew Wylie said last night that Rushdie was undergoing surgery but did not elaborate on the severity of the author’s condition.
After the attack, photos emerged that showed Rushie lying on his back with his legs in the air and a first responder crouched over him.
Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims view it as blasphemous, and its publication prompted Iran’s then-leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, to issue a fatwa calling for his execution.
Rushdie was due to speak to Henry Reese, from the City of Asylum organisation, a residency programme for writers living in exile under threat of persecution.
They were due to discuss America’s role as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.
A video posted to Twitter by a reporter in the audience showed a man dressed in black being led away from the stage.
A statement from New York State Police said: “On August 12, 2022, at about 11am, a male suspect ran up on to the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer. 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. More information will be released when it is available.”
New York governor Kathy Hochul told a press conference that a state police officer saved Rushdie’s life and that of the moderator.
She added: “He [Rushdie] is alive, he has been airlifted to safety. But here is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power, someone who’s been out there unafraid, despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life.”
The Chautauqua Institution, which was hosting the lecture, tweeted about the incident, writing: “We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, and patience as we fully focus on co-ordinating with police officials following a tragic incident at the Amphitheater today.
“All programs are cancelled for the remainder of the day. Please consult the NYS Police statement.”
Jeremy Genovese (68), from Beachwood, Ohio, a retired academic from Cleveland State University, told the PA news agency he arrived at the amphitheatre as it was being evacuated and that people were “streaming out”.
He said: “People were in shock, many people in tears. Chautauqua has always prided itself as a place where people can engage in civil dialogue.
“The amphitheatre is a large outdoor venue where people have given lectures since the late 1800s. You need a pass to access the grounds but it is not too difficult (to) get in.”
Rushdie’s publisher Penguin Random House said it was “deeply shocked and appalled” by the incident.
The author began his writing career in the early 1970s with two unsuccessful books before Midnight’s Children, about the birth of India, which won the Booker Prize in 1981.
It went on to bring him worldwide fame and was named “best of the Bookers” on the literary award’s 25th anniversary.
The author lived in hiding for many years in London under a British government protection programme after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his execution over The Satanic Verses.
Finally, in 1998, the Iranian government withdrew its support for the death sentence and Rushdie gradually returned to public life, even appearing as himself in the 2001 hit film Bridget Jones’s Diary. However, the Index on Censorship, an organisation promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for Rushdie’s killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa for his death still stands.
His other works include the Moor’s Last Sight and Shalimar The Clown, which was long-listed for the Booker.
He was knighted in 2008 and earlier this year was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour as part of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s birthday honours.