Author Salman Rushdie Cannot Speak, on Ventilator After Stabbing in New York

Author Salman Rushdie Cannot Speak, on Ventilator After Stabbing in New York
Author Salman Rushdie at the Blue Sofa at the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, on Oct. 12, 2017. (Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

Author Salman Rushdie, whose novel published in 1988 drew death threats from Iran’s leader and other Islamists, was on a ventilator and unable to speak late Friday, after he was stabbed just as he was to deliver a lecture in New York.

“The news is not good,” Andrew Wylie, Rushdie’s book agent, said in an email. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”

A New York State Police trooper providing security at the event arrested the suspect at the scene after he rushed the stage at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York and allegedly stabbed Rushdie in the neck and abdomen at about 11 a.m.

The suspect was identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, who bought a pass to the lecture event. State police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski said Matar’s motive is currently unclear. Matar’s lawyer declined to comment.

Attendees at the lecture event helped to pull the attacker away from Rushdie, who had fallen to the floor after he was stabbed.

Police said that a doctor in the audience as among those who helped tend to Rushdie while emergency services were on the way. The doctor, Martin Haskell, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”

The 75-year-old author was flown to a hospital and underwent hours of surgery later on Friday.

Writers and politicians around the world have condemned the attack as an assault on the freedom of expression.

Henry Reese, the event’s moderator, was also attacked and suffered a minor facial injury. Reese, 73, was treated and released from a hospital, police said. He was due to discuss with Rushdie on stage about how the United States has provided asylum for writers and artists in exile, and its role “as a home for freedom of creative expression,” according to the Chautauqua Institution’s website.

Bounty Since Publication of Book in 1988

Rushdie was born into a Muslim Kashmiri family in Bombay—now Mumbai—in India, before moving to the United Kingdom. In 2016, he became a U.S. citizen and lives in New York City.

The author has lived with death threats and a bounty on his head ever since 1988, when his fourth novel published that year, titled “The Satanic Verses,” was deemed blasphemous by some Muslims.

A few months after the book’s publication, in February 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s leader, issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling upon Muslims to kill Rushdie and anyone involved in the book’s publication, for blasphemy.

Often-violent protests against Rushdie also erupted around the world, including a riot in February 1989 that killed 12 people in Mumbai.

The book has since been banned in many countries with large Muslim populations.

Rushdie went into hiding for nearly a decade. He has called his novel “pretty mild.”

Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the novel, was murdered in 1991.

The Iranian government said in 1998 that it would no longer back the fatwa, and Rushdie has lived relatively openly in recent years. But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor, said as recently as 2019 that the fatwa was “irrevocable.”

Iranian organizations, some linked to the Iranian regime, have raised a bounty worth millions of dollars to have Rushdie killed.

A self-described lapsed Muslim and “hard-line atheist,” Rushdie has been a fierce critic of religion across the spectrum and outspoken about oppression in his native India, including under the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Mimi Nguyen Ly covers U.S. and world news.
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