Author Salman Rushie, one of the biggest names in literature whose writing sparked a fatwa, has been repeatedly stabbed on stage at a lecture in Western New York.
Witnessess described a masked attacker in black coming out of the audience as the prolific novelist was being introduced at the event at the Chautauqua Institution.
Swinging his arm in a punching action, the assailant repeatedly stabbed 75-year-old Rushie, apparently in the neck, in front of the horrified room of roughly 2500 people.
An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the bloody assault said he appeared to have been punched or stabbed 10 to 15 times.
A bloodied Rushdie was quickly surrounded by a small group who rendered first aid and held up his legs, presumably to send more blood to his chest.
Other audience members went after the attacker who was later taken into police custody.
Rushdie reportedly was walked off stage before being airlifted to hospital where Reuters says he was undergoing surgery.
The moderator at the event was also attacked and suffered a minor head injury, police said.
Rushie is the author of 14 novels but his career has been defined by his fourth novel in 1988, The Satanic Verses, which forced him into hiding for a decade with a fatwa and bounty on his head.
Many Muslims viewed his book as blasphemous and often-violent protests against him erupted around the world, including a riot that killed 12 people in Mumbai.
The novel was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
After nine years in seclusion, with security, Rushdie emerged and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.
In the three decades since the book’s publication, he has lived with constant threats of violence and a bounty of more than $US3 million ($4.2 million) for anyone who kills him.
Rabbi Charles Savenor, who was among Rushie’s audience on Friday (local time), described the attacker running onto the platform “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,” Savenor said.
He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.
Another spectator, Kathleen Jones, said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.
“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds (that it wasn’t),” she said.
Rushdie, a Booker Prize-winning author who is also knighted, has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes.
The attack was quickly condemned around the world while fellow writers expressed their absolute horror.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend”.
Authors Steven King and J.K Rowling also Tweeted their shock.
Feeling very sick right now. Let him be ok.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) August 12, 2022
“Feeling very sick right now. Let him be ok,” wrote Rowling.
PEN America, of which Rushie is a former president, said it was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack.
“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
Rushdie “has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” she added.
Rushie has said he is proud of his fight for freedom of expression, stating in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism was really the art of fear.
“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.
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