Novelist Salman Rushdie on ventilator after New York stabbing

NEW YORK: Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born novelist whose writing led to death threats in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and torso onstage at a lecture in New York state on Friday and airlifted to a hospital, police said.

After hours of surgery, Rushdie was on a ventilator and unable to speak on Friday evening after an attack condemned by writers and politicians around the world as an assault on the freedom of expression.

“The news is not good,” Andrew Wylie, his book agent, wrote in an email. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”

Rushdie, 75, was being introduced to give a talk to an audience of hundreds on artistic freedom at western New York’s Chautauqua Institution when a man rushed to the stage and lunged at the novelist, who has lived with a bounty on his head since the late 1980s.

Stunned attendees helped wrest the man from Rushdie, who had fallen to the floor. A New York State Police trooper 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 to the event.

“A man jumped up on the stage from I don’t know where and started what looked like beating him on the chest, repeated fist strokes into his chest and neck,” said Bradley Fisher, who was in the audience. “People were screaming and crying out and gasping.”

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

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan described the incident as “appalling.” “We’re thankful to good citizens and first responders for helping him so swiftly,” he wrote on Twitter.

Rushdie, who was born into a Muslim Kashmiri family in Bombay, now Mumbai, before moving to the United Kingdom, has long faced death threats for his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses”.

Muslim nations said the book contained blasphemous passages. It was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations upon its 1988 publication.

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

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

Iranian organisations, some affiliated with the government, have raised a bounty worth millions of dollars for Rushdie’s murder. And Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said as recently as 2019 that the fatwa was “irrevocable.”

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