Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born novelist who spent years in hiding under death threats from Iran because of his writing, was stabbed in the neck onstage at a lecture in New York state on Friday and airlifted to a hospital, police said.
He was alive and “getting the care he needs,” New York Governor Kathy Hochul said.
A man rushed to the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and attacked Rushdie, 75, as he was being introduced to give a talk on artistic freedom to an audience of hundreds, an eyewitness said. A New York State Police trooper present at the event took the attacker into custody, police said.
State police said the condition of Rushdie, who wrote the novel “The Satanic Verses,”was not known and did not give a motive for the attack and it was not clear what kind of weapon was used.
Andrew Wylie, a spokesperson for Rushdie, said in an emailed statement that “Salman is in surgery,” but did not have further details to share.
The author fell to the floor when the man attacked him, and was then surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, seemingly to send more blood to his upper body, as the attacker was restrained, according to a witness attending the lecture who asked not to be named.
Rushdie, who was born into a Muslim Kashmiri family in Bombay, now known as Mumbai, before moving to the United Kingdom, has faced death threats for his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims said contained blasphemous passages. The novel was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations upon its 1988 publication.
A year later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, pronounced a fatwa, or religious edict, calling upon Muslims to kill the novelist and anyone involved in its publication for blasphemy.
Rushdie, who called his novel “pretty mild,” went into hiding for many years. Hitoshi Igarashi, the Japanese translator of the novel, was murdered in 1991. The Iranian government said in 1998 it would no longer back the fatwa, and Rushdie has lived relatively openly in recent years.
Iranian organizations, some affiliated with the government, have raised a bounty worth millions of dollars for Rushdie’s murder. And Khomeini’s successor as supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said as late as 2017 that the fatwa was still valid.
Rushdie published a memoir about his life under the fatwa called “Joseph Anton,” the pseudonym he used while under British police protection. His second novel, “Midnight Children,” is a magical realism allegory set during the 1947 partition of India, and won the Booker Prize. His new novel “Victory City” is due to be published in February.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement he was appalled that Rushdie was “stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend.”
Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as asylum for writers and artists in exile and “as a home for freedom of creative expression,” according to the institution’s website.
There were no obvious security checks at the venue, with staff simply checking people’s tickets for admission, the eyewitness who was in the audience said. The Chautauqua Institution declined to comment when asked about security measures.
Rushdie became an American citizen in 2016 and lives in New York City.
He has been a fierce critic of religion across the spectrum. He has been critical of oppression and violence in his native India, including under the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York is yet to comment on the incident.
PEN America, an advocacy group for freedom of expression of which Rushdie is a former president, said it was “reeling from shock and horror” on what it called an unprecedented attack on a writer in the United States.
“Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered,” Suzanne Nossel, PEN’s chief executive, said in the statement. Earlier in the morning, Rushdie had emailed her to help with relocating Ukrainian writers seeking refuge, she said.
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York called it “an attack on freedom of speech and thought.