Well-known Indian-origin writer Salman Rushdie, 75-year-old, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen on Friday by a Muslim fanatic during a lecture tour in New York.
Police identified the attacker as Hadi Matar, 24-year-old, from Fairview, New Jersey. He was arrested at the scene and was awaiting arraignment. Rushdie was flown to a hospital and underwent surgery. An eyewitness who is a doctor described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”
An Associated Press reporter witnessed the attacker confront Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution and punch or stab him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced to 2,500 people in the audience.
It was reported that Matar, dressed in black with a black mask, ran onto the stage and started beating Rushdie for about 20 seconds.
Henry Reese, the 73-year-old, moderator of the lecture was also attacked and suffered a facial injury. He and Rushdie were about to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told the media that Rushdie “is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power.” The governor added: “Someone who has been out there unafraid, despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life it seems.”
While no response has come from the President of America Joe Biden or Vice-president Kamala Harris, the President of France Emmanuel Macron was among the first to tweet his support for Rushdie: “His fight is our fight; it is universal. Now more than ever, we stand by his side.”
Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese too in a tweet condemned the “senseless violence against a celebrated author is also an assault on global freedom of expression and deserves unequivocal condemnation.”
Well-known writer Taslima Nasreen, who had had to leave Bangladesh in 1990s due to death threats by Islamists, tweeted: “If he is attacked, anyone who is critical of Islam can be attacked.”
Masih Alinejad, the Iranian journalist and activist in exile, condemned the attack on Rushdie. In a tweet, she said: “You can kill us but you cannot kill the idea of writing & fighting for our dignity.”
PEN America said in a statement that they are “reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack.” PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said: “We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil. We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”
Rushdie who is also a past president of PEN America is well-known for his advocacy of free expression and liberal causes. In the late-1980s, Rushdie received death threats and fatwa from Islamists for his lucidly written novel “The Satanic Verses” (1988). The novel was viewed as blasphemous by many Islamists, who saw one of the characters as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, among various other objections.
The book was banned in Iran and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. The death threats led Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death; the same year an Italian translator survived a knife attack; and in 1993 a Norwegian publisher was shot three times. Even now, Rushdie has a bounty of $3 million on his head for anyone who kills him.
Kapil Komireddi, author of Malevolent Republic (2019), tweeted a scene from a 1990 Pakistani film that depicted Salman Rushdie as a satanic agent of Jews and Hindus out to destroy Islam.
State police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski told the media that Matar’s motive for stabbing Rushdie is still unclear. Meanwhile, Matar’s attorney, public defender Nathaniel Barone, declined to comment to media.