Sir Salman Rushdie has been rushed to hospital after he was stabbed on stage at a book event in New York state this afternoon.
The 75 year-old Indian-born, British-American writer was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, in west New York, when he was attacked.
A male suspect attacked, punched and stabbed Rushdie in the neck as he was being introduced, according to an Associated Press reporter present. Rushdie fell to the floor of the stage, while the suspect was detained and taken into custody, according to New York State Police. Rushdie has since been airlifted to a local hospital, though his present condition is unknown. Witnesses present say the author was stabbed multiple times and was bleeding heavily.
The international solidarity with Rushdie has been immediate. J. K. Rowling labelled it “horrifying news” while Stephen King stated: “I hope Salman Rushdie is okay”. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said: “Our thoughts are with Salman and his loved ones following this horrific event. I have directed State Police to further assist however needed in the investigation”.
A self-declared “hardline atheist”, Rushdie’s fourth novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’ (1988), was the subject of immense controversy. Inspired by the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the tome was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the 1988 Whitbread Award.
However, many Muslims believe the text is blasphemous and mocks their faith, with the book banned in Iran since its publication. Major protests led the then Supreme Leader of Iran Ruhollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s assassination. Bookshops were firebombed in response, as regular book burnings took place.
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A failed assassination attempt occurred in August 1989, while the Hezbollah leader endorsed Rushdie’s killing in 2006. For nearly a decade, Rushdie was forced to live in hiding under constant armed guard.
A bounty of over $3 million was offered for whoever killed Rushdie with a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raising the amount from $2.8 million to $3.3 million in 2012, according to AP News.
Despite Iran’s government in 1998 stating it no longer supported Rushdie’s killing, the fatwa remains in place to this day.
His second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the Booker Prize award in 1981 and was judged the best winner on the prize’s 25th and 40th anniversary. Labelled a “watershed in the post-independence development of the Indian English novel”, Rushdie’s revered status as an iconic writer is without question.
We can but only hope he lives to tell more stories, continues to promote artistic freedom and introduces new generations to the beauty of language.