Salman Rushdie is on a ventilator after he was stabbed many times on stage in New York state, with his agent saying he may lose an eye.

The 75-year-old author suffered severed nerves in an arm and damage to his liver, literary agent Andrew Wylie said.

He was unable to speak after he was airlifted to hospital and undergoing hours of surgery following the attack on Friday afternoon.
“The news is not good,” Mr Wylie said in a written statement.
“Salman will likely lose one eye, the nerves in his arm were severed, and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”

The Indian-born British author was being introduced to the audience ahead of giving a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, when a man stormed the stage and stabbed or punched him 10 to 15 times, according to witnesses.

Sir Salman, who was forced into hiding for years and received death threats after his book The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, was about to give a talk on freedom of expression and the United States as a safe haven for writers.

As he fell to the floor, the man was pinned down by audience members and staff who ran on stage. The suspect was arrested by a state trooper soon after, and is now in custody.

He has been identified as 24-year-old Hadi Matar from Fairview, New Jersey, who bought a pass for the event. Police say they do not yet know a motive for the assault, but they believe the suspect was acting alone.

According to NBC News, which cited a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the investigation, a preliminary review of his social media shows Matar had sympathies for Shia extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Rushdie was taken to hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania, by helicopter.

The Satanic Verses was Rushdie’s fourth book. It was banned in a number of countries with large Muslim populations, including Iran, after it was considered by some to contain blasphemous passages.

In 1989, Iran’s then leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Sir Salman’s death.

The country also offered a bounty of more than $3m for anyone who kills the writer.

There has been no official comment from the Iranian regime since the attack on Friday but several hardline Iranian newspapers praised the attack.

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

Witness to the attack Pilar Pintagro stated: “We were very scared because the first place (he was stabbed) was in the neck and that’s where the blood started to splash everywhere, and then he stabbed him in the shoulders and continued stabbing several times because it was so fast.
“People from the audience actually jumped onto the stage to try to put him down and Salman was trying to walk away from this guy, but he continued stabbing several times, and he was finally pinned down.”

‘In shock’

The writer was helped by a doctor who was in the audience before emergency services arrived.
Police said the event’s moderator, Henry Reese, suffered a minor head injury after also being attacked.

Another witness, Julia Mineeva Braun stated that as Sir Salman was being introduced “all of a sudden from the left-hand side of the stage a short man, (dressed) all in black, ran out, and he approached Mr Rushdie”.
“It was very quick… we thought he was fixing his microphone, and then we saw the knife. He started stabbing him in the neck first… and Mr Rushdie got up and started running. We’re still in shock.”

Rushdie’s publisher Penguin Random House said they were “deeply shocked” by the incident.
“We condemn this violent public assault, and our thoughts are with Salman and his family at this distressing time.”

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan described the attack as “appalling”, adding: “We’re thankful to good citizens and first responders for helping him so swiftly.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter he was “appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend”.
He added: “Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay.”

Rushdie lives in New York City and became a US citizen in 2016. His lecture was expected to discuss America’s role as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile, and as a home for freedom of creative expression.

Messages of support:

And messages of support have been pouring in for the Indian-born British author.

Fellow novelist Ian McEwan said: “This appalling attack on my dear friend Salman represents an assault on freedom of thought and speech.
“These are the freedoms that underpin all our rights and liberties. Salman has been an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world.”

Norwegian William Nygaard, who was shot and severely wounded in 1993 after publishing Sir Salman’s work, said: “He is a leading author who has meant so much to literature, and he had found a good life in the United States.”

Multimillion-selling horror writer Stephen King tweeted: “I hope Salman Rushdie is okay,” before adding “What kind of ***hat stabs a writer, anyway? F*****!”

Boris Johnson said: “Appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend.
“We are all hoping he is okay.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel tweeted: “Shocked and appalled to hear of the unprovoked and senseless attack on Sir Salman Rushdie.
“Freedom of expression is a value we hold dear and attempts to undermine it must not be tolerated. My thoughts are with Sir Salman and his family.”

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said on Twitter: “The horrific attack on Salman Rushdie in New York is appalling beyond words. I wish him well at this terrible time . This violence is an attack on free speech and can never be the answer. His assailant must be brought swiftly to justice.”

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: “For 33 years, Salman Rushdie has embodied freedom and the fight against obscurantism… His battle is ours, a universal one.”

Children’s author Michael Rosen said on Twitter: “Rushdie. Horrific. Wishing him recovery and a peaceful life. Total condemnation for the deed and the spirit and politics behind it.”

Comedian and author David Baddiel tweeted: “It’s appalling what has happened to Salman Rushdie. It’s also appalling that there are people who will think he brought it on himself or somehow deserved it.”

And Nigella Lawson said: “Such shocking news of Salman Rushdie having been stabbed. This is horrific. Am distraught. Please, please let him be ok.”

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said: “Today, the country and the world witnessed a reprehensible attack against the writer Salman Rushdie. This act of violence is appalling.
“All of us in the Biden-Harris Administration are praying for his speedy recovery. We are thankful to good citizens and first responders for helping Mr Rushdie so quickly after the attack and to law enforcement for its swift and effective work, which is ongoing.”

And Suzanne Nossel, of free expression group Pen America, said: “While we do not know the origins or motives of this attack, all those around the world who have met words with violence or called for the same are culpable for legitimising this assault on a writer while he was engaged in his essential work of connecting to readers.”

The Satanic Verses

(Source: Britannica)

The Satanic Versesmagic realist epic novel by British Indian writer Salman Rushdie that upon its publication in 1988 became one of the most controversial books in recent times. Its fanciful and satiric use of Islam struck many Muslims as blasphemous, and Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the author in 1989, enjoining Muslims to kill not only Rushdie but also his editors and publishers. Violent demonstrations followed in Pakistan; copies of the novel were burned in Britain, where several bookstores were bombed; and the work was banned in several countries.


The complex and multilayered plot focuses on two protagonists, both Indian Muslims living in England. Gibreel Farishta is a successful film actor who has suffered a recent bout of mental illness and who is in love with an English mountain climber, Alleluia Cone. Saladin Chamcha is a voice actor who has had a falling out with his father. Gibreel and Saladin meet on a flight from Bombay (Mumbai) to London, and the plane is hijacked by Sikh terrorists. During an argument the terrorists accidently detonate a bomb, destroying the aircraft over the English Channel. The book opens with Gibreel and Saladin, the sole survivors, falling into the Atlantic Ocean.

As Gibreel descends, he is transformed into the angel Gabriel and has a series of dreams. The first one is a revisionist history of the founding of Islam, and it is the details of this subplot that angered many Muslims. The character based on Muhammad is called Mahound, and he is attempting to found a monotheistic religion in the polytheistic town of Jahilia. As in an apocryphal legend, Mahound receives a vision allowing the worship of three goddesses, but, after realizing that the confirming revelation was sent by the devil, he recants. A quarter century later one of his disciples ceases to believe in Mahound’s religion, but the town of Jahilia converts. Prostitutes in a brothel take the names of Mahound’s wives before the brothels are closed. Later Mahound falls ill and dies, with his final vision being of one of the goddesses.

Saladin is transformed into the devil as he falls, and he later grows horns and goat legs with cloven hoofs. The two men crawl onto the coast, and Saladin is arrested as an illegal immigrant. After being hospitalized, he escapes, only to find that his wife is having an affair with one of his friends. His misfortunes continue as he loses his job. However, his rage at Gibreel for failing to intervene when he was arrested eventually transforms Saladin back into a fully human man. In the meantime, Gibreel is reunited with Alleluia, but an angel tells him to leave her and spread the word of God in London. He is hit by the car of an Indian film producer, who plans a trio of religious films in which Gibreel will star as an archangel. Later, Gibreel and Saladin meet at a party, and Saladin decides to kill him. However, although he has various opportunities, he does not murder Gibreel and instead induces him to believe that Alleluia has several lovers. Gibreel eventually realizes that Saladin has tricked him and resolves to kill him. However, when Gibreel finds Saladin in a burning building, he rescues him.

Upon learning that his father is dying, Saladin returns to Bombay and reconciles with him. He inherits a substantial sum of money and reconnects with a former girlfriend. Separately, Gibreel and Alleluia also travel to Bombay, and a jealous Gibreel murders her and then kills himself.

A third story line is introduced through another dream of Gibreel’s. It begins in the village of Titlipur, where a young girl named Ayesha and her adoptive parents, Mirza Saeed Akhtar and his wife, Mishal, live. Ayesha declares that the angel Gabreel has revealed to her that Mishal has breast cancer but that if the entire village walks to Mecca, Mishal will be healed. The pilgrimage is long and arduous, and many pilgrims die along the way. Others lose faith. When they reach the sea, Ayesha says that the seas will part for them, but they do not, and the pilgrims drown.


(Source: Wikipedia)

The publication of The Satanic Verses in September 1988 caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world because of what was seen by some to be an irreverent depiction of Muhammad. The title refers to a disputed Muslim tradition that is related in the book. According to this tradition, Muhammad (Mahound in the book) added verses (Ayah) to the Qur’an accepting three Arabian pagan goddesses who used to be worshipped in Mecca as divine beings. According to the legend, Muhammad later revoked the verses, saying the devil tempted him to utter these lines to appease the Meccans (hence the “Satanic” verses). However, the narrator reveals to the reader that these disputed verses were actually from the mouth of the Archangel Gabriel. The book was banned in many countries with large Muslim communities (13 in total: Iran, India, Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, Singapore, Venezuela, and Pakistan).

In response to the protests, on 22 January 1989, Rushdie published a column in The Observer that called Muhammad “one of the great geniuses of world history,” but noted that Islamic doctrine holds Muhammad to be human, and in no way perfect. He held that the novel is not “an anti-religious novel. It is, however, an attempt to write about migration, its stresses and transformations.”[63]

On 14 February 1989—Valentine’s Day, and also the day of his close friend Bruce Chatwin‘s funeral—a fatwā ordering Rushdie’s execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme leader of Iran at the time, calling the book “blasphemous against Islam”. Chapter IV of the book depicts the character of an Imam in exile who returns to incite revolt from the people of his country with no regard for their safety. A bounty was offered for Rushdie’s death, and he was thus forced to live under police protection for several years. On 7 March 1989, the United Kingdom and Iran broke diplomatic relations over the Rushdie controversy.

When, on BBC Radio 4, he was asked for a response to the threat, Rushdie said, “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.” Later, he wrote that he was “proud, then and always”, of that statement; while he did not feel his book was especially critical of Islam, “a religion whose leaders behaved in this way could probably use a little criticism.”

The publication of the book and the fatwā sparked violence around the world, with bookstores firebombed. Muslim communities in several nations in the West held public rallies, burning copies of the book.[69] Several people associated with translating or publishing the book were attacked, seriously injured, and even killed. Many more people died in riots in some countries. Despite the danger posed by the fatwā, Rushdie made a public appearance at London’s Wembley Stadium on 11 August 1993, during a concert by U2. In 2010, U2 bassist Adam Clayton recalled that “lead vocalist Bono had been calling Salman Rushdie from the stage every night on the Zoo TV tour. When we played Wembley, Salman showed up in person and the stadium erupted. You [could] tell from [drummer] Larry Mullen, Jr.’s face that we weren’t expecting it. Salman was a regular visitor after that. He had a backstage pass and he used it as often as possible. For a man who was supposed to be in hiding, it was remarkably easy to see him around the place.”

On 24 September 1998, as a precondition to the restoration of diplomatic relations with the UK, the Iranian government, then headed by Mohammad Khatami, gave a public commitment that it would “neither support nor hinder assassination operations on Rushdie.”

Hardliners in Iran have continued to reaffirm the death sentence. In early 2005, Khomeini’s fatwā was reaffirmed by Iran’s current spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Additionally, the Revolutionary Guards declared that the death sentence on him is still valid.

Rushdie has reported that he still receives a “sort of Valentine‘s card” from Iran each year on 14 February letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him and has jokingly referred it as “my unfunny Valentine” in a reference to the song “My Funny Valentine”. He said, “It’s reached the point where it’s a piece of rhetoric rather than a real threat.” Despite the threats on Rushdie personally, he said that his family has never been threatened, and that his mother, who lived in Pakistan during the later years of her life, even received outpourings of support. Rushdie himself has been prevented from entering Pakistan, however.

A former bodyguard to Rushdie, Ron Evans, planned to publish a book recounting the behaviour of the author during the time he was in hiding. Evans claimed that Rushdie tried to profit financially from the fatwa and was suicidal, but Rushdie dismissed the book as a “bunch of lies” and took legal action against Evans, his co-author and their publisher. On 26 August 2008, Rushdie received an apology at the High Court in London from all three parties. A memoir of his years of hiding, Joseph Anton, was released on 18 September 2012. Joseph Anton was Rushdie’s secret alias.

In February 1997, Ayatollah Hasan Sane’i, leader of the bonyad panzdah-e khordad (Fifteenth of Khordad Foundation), reported that the blood money offered by the foundation for the assassination of Rushdie would be increased from $2 million to $2.5 million. Then a semi-official religious foundation in Iran increased the reward it had offered for the killing of Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

In November 2015, former Indian minister P. Chidambaram acknowledged that banning The Satanic Verses was wrong. In 1998, Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami proclaimed the fatwa “finished”; but it has never been officially lifted, and in fact has been reiterated several times by Ali Khamenei and other religious officials. Yet more money was added to the bounty in February 2016.

Christopher Hitchens vs Shirley Williams (both deceased)

Whatever one thinks of an honours system and personally I am against it in its entirety, back in 2007 Rushdie was given a knighthood. On the Question Time panel discussing at the time were from left to right: Peter Hitchens, Boris Johnson, Shirley Williams, Tony McNulty and Christopher Hitchens. Apart from Shirley Williams there was a general consensus that Rushdie should have been knighted although there was considerable disagreement about why.

Having read the above and viewed this interaction where should we stand?

Assuming the debate is focused specifically on Rushdie does his literature merit a knighthood or any award? Should the content of his literature impact on the decision? Does Shirley Williams’ narrative resonate or is Christopher Hitchens the more persuasive?

Please let us know, re these questions or any other aspect, in the comments below .

Democracy means participation and being heard. Without, we are just voyeurs in our own lives.

Jason Cridland

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