Author Salman Rushdie taken to hospital after attack in New York State

By Paul Myers - RFI
Europe AP - Joshua Goodman
AUG 12, 2022 LISTEN
AP - Joshua Goodman

Author Salman Rushdie was on Friday recovering in hospital after he was stabbed in the neck as he was about to give a lecture in New York state.

A man dressed in black and wearing a black mask rushed onto the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and assaulted the 75-year-old and the moderator who was introducing the prize winning writer.

Rushdie fell to the floor in the scuffle which also left the moderator with a head injury.

New York State Police said on Friday night they had taken a suspect into custody at the scene.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheatre.

"The assailant ran onto the platform and started pounding on Rushdie," said Savenor.

"At first you're like: 'What's going on?' And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten.” 

Kathleen Jones, another member of the audience, said: “We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there's still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds that it wasn't."

Rushdie was given first aid on the stage before the arrival of medics. He was taken to hospital by helicopter.

The author has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes.

He is a former president of PEN America.

“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” said PEN America chief Suzanne Nossel.

"Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” she added.

His 1988 book The Satanic Verses was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims. Violent protests against Rushdie erupted around the world, including a riot that killed 12 people in Mumbai.

The novel was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa - edict - calling for Rushdie's death.

Iran's current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years has not focused on the writer.

The death threats and a multi-million dollar bounty led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection programme, which included a round-the-clock armed guard.

Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances.

During a talk in 2012 in New York, he said that terrorism is the art of fear. “The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he added.

Iran's government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini's decree but anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered.

The Index on Censorship, an organisation promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for his killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa for his death still stands.

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 south-west of Buffalo in a rural corner in the west of New York State, has served for more than a century as a place for reflection and spiritual guidance.

Visitors do not pass through metal detectors or undergo bag checks. 

Rushdie has spoken before at the venue without incident. He and Reese were set to discuss the topic of the United States as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile.

The pair were also due to consider the country as a home for freedom of creative expression.

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