Novelist Salman Rushdie on fan after stabbing in New York

NEW YORK, Aug 12 (Reuters) – Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born novelist who spent years in hiding after Iran urged Muslims to kill him over his writing, has been stabbed in the neck and chest on stage at a conference in New York state on Friday and airlifted to hospital, police said.

After hours of surgery, Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak on Friday night after an attack condemned by writers and politicians around the world as an attack on free speech.

“The news is not good,” wrote Andrew Wylie, his reading 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 on stage to lecture an audience of hundreds on artistic freedom at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York when a man rushed onto the stage and threw himself on the novelist, who has lived with a bounty on his head since the late 1980s.

The stunned attendees helped snatch the man from Rushdie, who had fallen to the ground. A New York State Police trooper providing security at the event arrested the assailant. Police have identified the suspect as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old man from Fairview, New Jersey, who purchased a pass for the event.

“A man jumped onto the stage from who knows where and started what looked like punching him in the chest, repeatedly punching him in the chest and neck,” said Bradley Fisher, who was in the public. “People were screaming, crying and gasping.”

A doctor in the audience helped treat Rushdie while emergency services arrived, police said. Event moderator Henry Reese suffered a minor head injury. Police said they are working with federal investigators to determine a motive. They 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 into a Kashmiri Muslim family in Bombay, now Mumbai, before moving to the UK, has long faced death threats for his fourth novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’.

Some Muslims said the book contained blasphemous passages. It was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations when it was published in 1988.

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

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

Iranian organizations, including some affiliated with the government, collected a multi-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 outlets donated money in 2016 to raise the bounty by $600,000. Fars called Rushdie an apostate who “insulted the prophet” in his report on Friday’s attack.

“NOT A USUAL WRITER”

Rushdie published a memoir in 2012 about his cloistered, secretive life under the fatwa called “Joseph Anton”, the pseudonym he used while under British police protection. Her second novel, “Midnight’s Children”, won the Booker Prize. Her 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 for a discussion about the United States granting asylum to artists in exile and “as a home for free creative expression,” according to the website. institution.

There were no obvious security checks at the institution of Chautauqua, a landmark founded in the 19th century in the small lakeside town of the same name; staff simply checked people’s passes for admission, attendees said.

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

Michael Hill, the institution’s president, told a press conference that they used to work with state and local police to provide security for events. He swore that the summer program would continue soon.

“Our goal is to help people bridge what has divided a world too much,” Hill said. “The worst thing Chautauqua could do is walk away from his mission in light of this tragedy, and I don’t think Mr. Rushdie would want that either.”

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

A self-proclaimed fallen Muslim and a “hardcore atheist”, he was a fierce critic of religion in all walks of life and spoke openly about the oppression in his native India, including under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra. Modi.

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

“Salman Rushdie was targeted for his lyrics for decades but never flinched or wavered,” PEN chief executive Suzanne Nossel said in the statement. Earlier that morning, Rushdie had emailed her to help relocate Ukrainian writers seeking refuge, she said.

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Reporting by 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; Editing by Alistair Bell, Daniel Wallis and Michael Perry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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