Author Salman Rushdie was attacked while on stage in New York on Friday. The author is a prominent spokesman for free expression and faced death threats from Iran in the 1980s because of his writing, notably his novel The Satanic Verses.
The Indian-born novelist was on stage at the Chautauqua Institution to deliver a lecture on artistic freedom when he was attacked.
Rushdie, 75, was taken by helicopter to a hospital; his agent later said he was in surgery. On Twitter, New York Governor Kathy Hochul thanked emergency responders for their work and said “our thoughts are with Salman & his loved ones following this horrific event.”
The literary and political worlds expressed shock, concern and outrage after the news.
“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” PEN America’s chief executive officer Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
“Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face,” she wrote.
“Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered. He has devoted tireless energy to assisting others who are vulnerable and menaced. 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 legitimizing this assault on a writer while he was engaged in his essential work of connecting to readers.”
The current president of PEN America, Ayad Akhtar, wrote on Twitter that it was “hard to find words to express the emotions” that resulted from the attack on Rushdie – himself a former president of the organization.
“Salman’s leadership in the wake of 9/11 set the course for the two decades which have followed,” Akhtar wrote. “He remains a tireless advocate for imperiled writers, for unfettered intellectual and creative exchange, and one of the last half-century’s great champions of freedom of expression.”
Akhtar said Rushdie’s collected works represented the values of the organization. His work “questioned founding myths and expanded the world’s imaginative possibilities, at great cost to himself,” he wrote.
Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, wrote on Twitter that he was “wishing Salman Rushdie a safe recovery from this vicious attack.” In 1992, Rae helped make arrangements for Rushdie to appear at a PEN Canada event when the author was still under the threat of an international fatwa. Rae was the first Canadian politician to publicly greet the author.
Toronto-based filmmaker Deepa Mehta, who directed the film adaptation of Rushdie’s 1981 novel Midnight’s Children, said on Twitter the author had been “attacked by grievous hate.” She went on to say she and daughter Devyani Saltzman, along with the “sane world,” want him to heal “RIGHT NOW.”
On Twitter, author Neil Gaiman expressed his shock and distress over news of the attack on his friend. “He’s a good man and a brilliant one and I hope he’s okay,” Gaiman said.
Wajahat Ali, author of Go Back To Where You Came From, took to Twitter to express his shock. “I hope Salman Rushdie isn’t injured and can recover and heal quickly. How disgusting,” he wrote.
He went on to add: “Unhinged men wanting to police the world through violence. Salman Rushdie stabbed today. FBI attacked yesterday. I fear these examples of violence will only keep escalating with polarization, disinformation and extremism going mainstream.”
Journalist Stephanie Merritt, tweeted about interviewing the author on stage at an event where attendees had to enter through “airport-type security gates.” “I remember looking out at this big crowd & feeling suddenly scared: it would only take one. How much courage he must have had all this time,” she wrote.
On Twitter British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “appalled” Rushdie was attacked while “exercising a right we should never cease to defend.”