Salman Rushdie is on a ventilator after being attacked on stage in New York state, AP reports. During a brief scuffle, he received knife wounds to the face, neck, and torso. The author has been subjected to decades of Islamist death threats since the 1988 publishing of his novel The Satanic Verses.
After hours of surgery, Rushdie is now on a ventilator. In an email, his book agent Andrew Wylie wrote that “the news is not good,” as the author is likely to lose one eye. During the attack, stab wounds damaged his liver and severed the nerves in his arm, Reuters reported.
Police have in the meantime identified his attacker as 24-year old Hadi Matar, who lives in New Jersey. He was arrested at the scene and is now waiting to be arraigned. The motive for the attack remains unclear, but is currently being investigated in cooperation with the FBI, State Police Major Eugene Staniszewski said.
According to law-enforcement sources in contact with The New York Post, Matar had posted on social media about his support of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard, and seemed sympathetic towards Shia extremism.
At the time of the attack, the 75-year old Booker Prize winner was speaking at an event at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. The original statement by state police said a male suspect ran up onto the stage and attacked Rushdie as well as his interviewer. “Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck,” their statement read.
According to an unnamed witness, the author fell to the floor when a man in a black mask attacked him, and was then attended to by a small group of people holding up his legs, seemingly to let blood flow to his upper body. His attacker was in the meantime being restrained by a state trooper.
About an hour after the events, New York Governor Kathy Hochul told a press conference that Mr. Rushdie was alive, and taken to a local hospital by helicopter where he is “getting the care he needs.”
Rushdie’s interviewer, Henry Reese, only suffered a minor head injury. Reese is the co-founder of the non-profit City of Asylum/Pittsburgh (COAP), which provides sanctuary and financial assistance to writers exiled under threat of persecution. Thus far, four exiled writers are with COAP, including poet Huang Xiang, who spent 12 years in Chinese prisons and labor camps for his writings.
The attack on Rushdie has been received with shock by pro-free speech organizations like PEN International and Index on Censorship.
The incident has the literary world spooked as well. Fellow authors, such as fantasy scribe Neil Gaiman, tweeted out words of support.
It was 1981’s Midnight’s Children that first launched the Indian-born novelist into fame. Now considered a classic of magical realist fiction, in the UK alone it went on to sell over one million copies. Widely lauded by critics, it made Rushdie the recipient of his only Booker thus far.
His fourth book, 1988’s The Satanic Verses, sparked outrage across the Islamic world, and forced him into hiding for nine years. It is still considered a blasphemous work, banned in several countries.
A year after the book’s release, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini called for Mr. Rushdie’s death. Through a fatwa—a legal decree issued by an Islamic religious leader—he offered a $3m reward. Subsequently, the British government put Rushdie under police protection.
Although Iran’s government has distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree since then, his bounty on Mr. Rushdie’s head remains in force. In 2012, an Iranian religious foundation added a further $500,000 to the reward.
Since the fatwa, the British-American citizen—born to an Indian Kashmiri family of non-practising Muslims and an atheist himself—has become a staunch advocate for freedom of speech.
Only last month, his upcoming book Victory City was announced.