Author Salman Rushdie attacked on stage in New York

Author Salman Rushdie attacked on stage in New York

Salman Rushdie, the author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, has been attacked as he was about to give a lecture in southwestern New York state.

Police said Rushdie was apparently stabbed in the neck on Friday after an assailant attacked him 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,” New York State Police said in a statement.

“The interviewer suffered a minor head injury. A State Trooper assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody.”

The Reuters news agency cited a spokesperson for Rushdie as saying that he is in surgery without providing details. New York Governor Kathy Hochul also said Rushdie was alive and “getting the care he needs at a local hospital”.

An Associated Press news agency reporter witnessed a man storm the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and begin punching or stabbing Rushdie as he was being introduced. The author was taken or fell to the floor and the man was restrained.

Stacey Schlosser, who witnessed the attack, told AP that Rushdie was stabbed six to eight times before the attacker was restrained.

“Nobody knew what to do. Nobody knew how to react. I mean, there were tons of people that rushed the stage,” Schlosser said.

Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. A year later, Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued an edict calling for Rushdie’s death.

Iran has also offered more than $3m in reward for anyone who kills Rushdie. Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment lingered. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raised the reward for Rushdie from $2.8m to $3.3m.

Rushdie dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was “no evidence” of people being interested in the reward. That year, he published a memoir, Joseph Anton, about the ordeal. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie had used while in hiding.

Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel Midnight’s Children, but his name became known around the world after The Satanic Verses.

The Chautauqua Institution, about 90km (55 miles) southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, is known for its summertime lecture series. Rushdie has spoken there before.

The British-Indian author, who currently lives in the United States, had been previously put under police protection because of threats to his life. He has published dozens of books. The UK knighted him in 2007, which sparked protests in several countries in the Muslim world.

Advocacy groups and politicians in the US and the UK denounced the incident on Friday. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Rushdie was stabbed “while exercising a right we should never cease to defend”.

Pen America, a writers’ association that promotes freedom of expression, which was previously led by Rushdie, described the assault as a “premeditated attack”.

“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,” the group’s 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.”

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, called the assault on Rushdie an “appalling” attack on “freedom of speech and thought”.

“I hope Mr. Rushdie quickly and fully recovers and the perpetrator experiences full accountability and justice,” Schumer wrote on Twitter.