Salman Rushdie had begun to believe that his “life had returned to normal” | Salman Rushdie


Salman Rushdie thought his life was “very normal again” and fears of an attack were a thing of the past, he told an interviewer just two weeks before he was stabbed on stage in New York on Friday.

The novelist, who remained in the hospital yesterday, was stabbed several times, notably in the neck and abdomen. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said his liver had been damaged and he was at risk of losing an eye.

Her alleged attacker, Hadi Matar, 24, was charged yesterday with attempted murder and assault.

Rushdie, 75, had spoken at a literary festival at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York about the importance for America of granting asylum to exiled writers when it was assaulted.

Matar, who had bought a ticket, allegedly rushed onto the stage and stabbed Rushdie before being attacked by spectators, institution staff and two local security officers.

Rushdie had been under a fatwa calling for his death since 1989, when Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini published it in response to the Indian-born author’s controversial novel satanic verses. The Iranian regime has since sought to distance itself from the fatwa, but the price of Rushdie’s head has been raised in recent years to more than $3 million.

Many Muslims considered Rushdie’s book to be blasphemous because, among other things, it included a character they interpreted as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of their faith.

satanic verses was published a decade before Matar was born to emigrated parents from Lebanon. But, according to reports, his social media activity suggests an admiration for Iran and an attraction to Shia extremism.

Just a fortnight ago Rushdie spoke to the German news magazine Back on his safety. The author said his life would have been in much greater danger had social media existed at the time he wrote satanic verses: “More dangerous, infinitely more dangerous”.

“A fatwa is a serious thing. Luckily we didn’t have internet back then. The Iranians had sent the fatwa to the mosques by fax. It’s a long time ago. Today, my life is back to very normal. Asked what frightens him now, Rushdie replied, “In the past, I would have said religious fanaticism. I don’t say that anymore. The greatest danger we face right now is losing our democracy. Since the Supreme Court verdict on abortion, I seriously fear that the United States will not succeed. That the problems are irreparable and the country will break up. The greatest danger we face today is this type of cryptofascism that we see in America and elsewhere.

“Oh, we live in scary times. It’s true even if I always tell people: don’t be afraid. But the bad thing is that death threats have become more normal. Not only do politicians get them, even American teachers who remove certain books from the curriculum.

“Look how many guns there are in America. The existence of all these guns in itself is frightening. I think a lot of people today live with threats similar to the ones I had back then. And the fax machines they used against me are like a bicycle rather than a Ferrari compared to the internet.

The police and the FBI search the suspect’s home after Rushdie was stabbed. Photography: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

He said he was glad his books were reviewed in the arts pages rather than the political sections of newspapers.

Back asked what his advice was for people who were afraid of the direction the world was going: “I think there’s something very good going on in the younger generation: they’re much more inclined towards activism. We are seeing a generation aging that we urgently need right now, a combative generation. We need people who can organize themselves and people who are ready to fight. Fighters. For a society worth living in. Instead of hoping for the best. As an author, I also notice that young authors are becoming role models again – instead of what they used to be, which was only deceased authors.

Questions were asked yesterday about how Matar gained access to the event. Paul Susko, an attorney based in Erie — the Pennsylvania town where Rushdie is now on a ventilator at UPMC Hamot Hospital — said attendees were barred from bringing food and drink into the venue, but it was everything.

“There was a check to prevent attendees from bringing a cup of coffee,” Susko said. He added that “perhaps tracking weapons” with a rod or metal detectors “would have been more helpful.”

Susko, who came to the event with his son, was front row on the side of the stage where Matar rushed the perpetrator. “There was no security preventing us from accessing the stage,” Susko said. “There was no visible security around the scene at the time of the attack.”

Several people in the audience said Matar was dressed in black and wearing a mask. “We thought this was perhaps part of a set-up to show that there is still a lot of controversy around this author,” witness Kathleen Jones said. “But it became apparent within seconds that was not the case.”

The Chautauqua Institution began life as a summer camp for Sunday School teachers and has become a major center of cultural exchange and dialogue. Hours after the attack, the institution’s president, Michael Hill, said the site had seen nothing like it in its nearly 150 years of existence.

He said: “We were founded to bring people together in community, to learn, and in doing so, to create solutions, develop empathy, and solve unsolvable problems. Today we are called to confront fear and the worst of all human traits: hatred.

Hill confirmed that Matar had a ticket for the event “in the same way as any other customer would.” He stressed that the institution was open to all, as part of its mission of inclusiveness.

Asked if there should have been enhanced security with metal detectors present, given the sensitivities around Rushdie, he said: “We are proud of the security we have.”

Discussions took place before Friday’s interview between state and local police and the institution, and two officers were assigned — a state trooper and a local deputy. New York State Police’s Eugene Staniszewski told a news conference that law enforcement held talks with the institution early in the season.

“There were high-profile events where they asked for law enforcement to be present, and luckily they were,” he said. New York State Governor Kathy Hochul praised the soldier for his actions. “He was a state trooper who got up and saved his life, protected him and the host who was attacked,” she said.

Rushdie had no security of his own. Asked if organizers should have made efforts to screen attendees entering the premises, Hill vehemently disagreed.

“Our mission is to build bridges across difference,” he said. “Mr. Rushdie is known as one of the greatest defenders of free speech. One of the worst things Chautauqua can do is stray from its mission.


Comments are closed.