Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked on stage at an event in New York and suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, according to New York State Police and an eyewitness.
A man rushed to the stage at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state and attacked Rushdie as he was being introduced to give a talk on artistic freedom, an eyewitness said. A State Trooper present at the event took the attacker into custody, police said.
Rushdie was taken by helicopter to a hospital but his condition was not yet known, police said. The police statement gave no motive for the attack.
Rushdie fell to the floor when the man attacked him, and was then surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, seemingly to send more blood to his upper body, as the attacker was restrained, according to a witness attending the lecture who asked not to be named.
“We are dealing with an emergency situation,” a Chautauqua Institution spokesperson said when contacted by Reuters.
Rushdie, who was born into an Indian Muslim family, has faced death threats for his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims said contained blasphemous passages. The novel was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations upon its 1988 publication.
A year later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, pronounced a fatwa, or religious edict, calling upon Muslims to kill the novelist for blasphemy.
Rushdie went into hiding for many years. The Iranian government said in 1998 that it would no longer back the fatwa, and Rushdie has lived relatively openly in recent years. Iranian organizations, however, have raised a bounty worth millions of dollars for Rushdie’s murder.
Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and “as a home for freedom of creative expression,” according to the institution’s website.
He became an American citizen in 2016 and lives in New York City. He has been critical of oppression in his native India, including under the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Wylie Agency, which represents Rushdie, did not respond to a request for comment.
PEN America, an advocacy group for freedom of expression of which Rushdie is a former president, said it was “reeling from shock and horror” on what it called an unprecedented attack on a writer in the United States.
“Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” Suzanne Nossel, PEN’s chief executive, said in the statement. Earlier in the morning, Rushdie had emailed her to help with relocating Ukrainian writers seeking refuge, she said.
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York called it “an attack on freedom of speech and thought.”
Copyright 2022 Thomson/Reuters