On Friday, novelist Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the neck while giving a lecture onstage during an ongoing event at the Chautauqua Institution in New York City.
An official report from the New York state police confirmed that the author suffered “an apparent stab wound to the neck” during the attack. He was immediately airlifted to a nearby hospital but his current condition remains unknown.
Photos obtained by the Associated Press showed Rushdie lying on the floor on his back, with first responders crouching over his frame. A video outside the venue also showed Rushdie being carried towards the helicopter before being flown to the hospital.
The publication also reported that a man wearing a black mask rushed towards Rushdie during the latter’s introduction and attacked him with a knife. The author immediately fell to the floor while the man was detained and taken into custody.
Eyewitness Rabbi Charles Savenor told the Associated Press that the attack on Rushdie lasted for nearly 20 seconds:
“This guy ran on to platform and started pounding on Mr Rushdie. At first you're like, ‘What's going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten.”
Retired journalist Paula Voell spoke to Buffalo News about the attack and added:
“We saw the man race a few steps across the stage and there was horror – the whole audience reacted, and probably 15 spectators raced on to the stage to try to attend to him, or so it seemed.”
According to The Guardian, Salman Rushdie was present at the venue to deliver a speech about “the importance of the US offering asylum for writers and other artists in exile.”
Salman Rushdie, who rose to fame with the 1981 novel Midnight’s Children, had to go into hiding for nearly nine years after former Supreme leader of Iran Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the author for his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses.
At the time, Khomeini also announced a bounty of more than $3 million for any individual who would kill Rushdie. Although the fatwa was lifted by the Iranian government in 1998, it was later reaffirmed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2005.
In 2016, The Guardian reported that nearly forty state-run Iranian media outlets raised the money for the fatwa against Salman Rushdie to $600,000. However, the author previously said that there was “no evidence” that people were interested in the reward.
A look into The Satanic Verses fatwa against Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie found himself in the middle of a major controversy following the publication of his controversial 1988 book The Satanic Verses, which is believed to be party influenced by the life of Muhammad.
The novel largely angered the Muslim community and many accused the author of blasphemy and unbelief for an alleged disrespectful depiction of Muhammad.
The book was also banned in 13 countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, Venezuela, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and India.
On February 14, 1989, the-then Supreme leader of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie, saying that his novel was “blasphemous against Islam.” The religious ruling called on all Muslim individuals to assassinate Rushdie and also announced a $3 million bounty for the person who will kill the author.
Following the declaration of the fatwa, Salman Rushdie was forced into hiding for nearly nine years. During this time, he was consistently surrounded by guards, had to change multiple safe-houses and even embraced the alias Joseph Anton.
The fatwa prompted widespread violence across the globe with protest rallies, bombings of bookstores and attacks on translators and publishers of the book. The violence also led to the killing of Hitoshi Igarashi, who was the Japanese translator of the book.
Salman Rushdie reportedly responded to the threats against him while speaking on BBC Radio 4 and said that his book was not a “blasphemy against Islam”:
“Frankly, I wish I had written a more critical book and I'm very sad that it should have happened. It's not true that this book is a blasphemy against Islam. I doubt very much that Khomeini or anyone else in Iran has read the book or more than selected extracts out of context.”
He also spoke to The Daily Mail and compared being under the fatwa to living in a prison:
“Being under the fatwa was a jail, but I think that one of the problems is that from the outside it looked glamorous, as I sometimes showed up in places in Jags with people jumping out to open the door and make sure you get in safely and so on. Looks of who the hell does he think he is? Well, from my side it felt like jail.”
The author also mentioned that he did not intend to insult Islam through his book:
“If I had simply wanted to trade on an insult to Islam I could have done it in a sentence rather than writing a 250,000-word novel, a work of fiction. What you have to remember is that The Satanic Verses is not called Islam the Prophet, it is not called Mohammed, the country is not called Arabia - it all happens in the dream of somebody who is losing their mind.”
The fatwa against Salman Rushdie also prompted the United Kingdom and Iran to break their diplomatic ties in 1989. Nearly a decade later, then-Iranian government leader Mohammad Khatami announced that the regime would “neither support nor hinder assassination operations on Rushdie.”
However, the fatwa was never officially lifted and has continued to be reaffirmed over the years. In 1997, Ayatollah Hasan Sane'i reported that the money offered for the assassination of Rushdie would be increased from $2 million to $2.5 million.
Another semi-official religious Iranian foundation also allegedly increased the reward for the killing from $2.8 million to $3.3 million. Financial donations to increase the bounty for the execution of Rushdie were made as early as 2016.
Salman Rushdie also previously said that he still receives “sort of Valentine's card” from Iran on February 14 every year, with people allegedly mentioning that the country remembers their pledge to kill the author.
In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir titled Joseph Anton, which highlighted his life amid the active fatwa.