Salman Rushdie ‘may lose an eye’ after being stabbed, agent says

·6-min read
Salman Rushdie ‘may lose an eye’ after being stabbed, agent says

Sir Salman Rushdie, whose writing in the 1980s drew death threats, may lose an eye after being stabbed repeatedly at an event in New York, his agent has said.

Sir Salman was due to speak at an event of the Chautauqua Institution on Friday. As he was introduced, a man, later identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, stormed the staged and attacked him.

“The news is not good. Salman will likely lose one eye, the nerves in his arm were severed, and his liver was stabbed and damaged,” his agent, Andrew Wylie said in a written statement.

In a press conference held in Jamestown, New York, police officials said the suspect jumped on stage and stabbed the writer at least once in the neck and once in the stomach.

Major Eugene Staniszweski said at a press conference held in Jamestown on Friday: “Earlier today at approximately 10.47am, guest speaker Salman Rushdie, aged 75, and Ralph Henry Reese, age 73, had just arrived on stage at the institution.

“Shortly thereafter, the suspect jumped on to the stage and attacked Mr Rushdie, stabbing him at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen.

“Several members of the staff at the institution and audience members rushed the suspect and took him to the ground, and shortly thereafter, a trooper who was at the institution took the suspect into custody with the assistance of a Chautauqua County Sheriff’s deputy.

“Mr Rushdie was provided medical treatment by a doctor who was in the audience until EMS arrived on scene.

“Mr Rushdie was airlifted to a local trauma centre and is still currently undergoing surgery.”

New York governor Kathy Hochul told a press conference earlier on Friday that a police officer saved his life in what she described as a “heartbreaking” incident.

“He is alive, he has been airlifted to safety. But here is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power, someone who’s been out there unafraid, despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life,” she said.

The Chautauqua Institution, which was hosting Sir Salman Rushdie’s lecture when he was attacked, said: “We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, and patience as we fully focus on co-ordinating with police officials following a tragic incident at the Amphitheater today.

“All programs are canceled for the remainder of the day. Please consult the NYS Police statement.”

Jeremy Genovese, 68, a retired academic from Cleveland State University, told PA he arrived at the amphitheatre as it was being evacuated and that people were “streaming out”.

“People were in shock, many people in tears. Chautauqua has always prided itself as a place where people can engage in civil dialogue,” he said,

“The amphitheatre is a large outdoor venue where people have given lectures since the late 1800s. You need a pass to access the grounds but it is not too difficult get in.”

Sir Salman’s book "The Satanic Verses" has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous.

Author Salman Rushdie is tended to after he was attacked during a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y (AP)
Author Salman Rushdie is tended to after he was attacked during a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y (AP)

A year later, Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for his death which forced him into hiding.

In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for killing the author from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

Sir Salman dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was "no evidence" of people being interested in the reward.

Sir Salman Rushdie’s publisher Penguin Random House said they are “deeply shocked and appalled” and “condemn this violent public assault”.

JK Rowling and Stephen King are among the authors and notable faces voicing their disbelief after Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed on stage in New York state.

Harry Potter author Ms Rowling said on Twitter: “Horrifying news. Feeling very sick right now. Let him be ok.”

She later revealed that she contacted the police after receiving a threat from a Twitter user.

She shared screenshots of a message from a user who had written “don’t worry you are next” in response to her saying she hoped novelist Sir Salman is “OK” following the attack.

She wrote: “To all sending supportive messages: thank you.

“Police are involved (were already involved on other threats).”

Renowned American author of horror and fantasy novels King said: “I hope Salman Rushdie is okay.”

Salman Rushdie (AFP via Getty Images)
Salman Rushdie (AFP via Getty Images)

A number of political figures also shared their shock.

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.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “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.”

Conservative leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak wrote on Twitter: “Shocked to hear of the attack on Salman Rushdie in New York.

“A champion of free speech and artistic freedom. He’s in our thoughts tonight.”

Sir Salman began his writing career in the early 1970s with two unsuccessful books before Midnight’s Children, about the birth of India, which won the Booker Prize in 1981.

It went on to bring him worldwide fame and was named “best of the Bookers” on the literary award’s 25th anniversary.

The author lived in hiding for many years in London under a British Government protection programme after the fatwa, calling for his execution over The Satanic Verses, was issued.

Sir Salman Rushdie after receiving his knighthood from the Queen in 2008 (John Stillwell/PA) (PA Archive)
Sir Salman Rushdie after receiving his knighthood from the Queen in 2008 (John Stillwell/PA) (PA Archive)

His other works include the Moor’s Last Sight and Shalimar The Clown, which was long-listed for the Booker.

He was knighted in 2008 and earlier this year was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

Sir Keir Starmer also paid tribute to the author, saying: “This cowardly attack on him yesterday is an attack on those values. The whole Labour Party is praying for his full recovery.”

“Salman Rushdie has long embodied the struggle for liberty and freedom against those who seek to destroy them.”