Writers and politicians around the world on Saturday criticised the attack on author Salman Rushdie, saying it was an assault on the freedom of expression.
The Indian-born British author was stabbed in the neck and abdomen at an event in New York’s Chautauqua Institution on Friday. A man rushed to the stage and lunged at the 75-year-old writer while he was being introduced to the audience. Rushdie is on a ventilator and will likely lose an eye, his agent said.
Rushdie has faced several death threats since his novel The Satanic Verses was published in 1988, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous.
Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive officer of PEN America, said the nonprofit literary organisation was “reeling from shock and horror” at the attack. Rushdie is a former president of PEN America, which advocates for writers’ freedom of expression around the world.
“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” Nossel said. “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...We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”
Nossel added Rushdie had emailed her on Friday morning to help Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge.
Ian McEwan, the Booker Prize winning author, said the “appalling attack” represents an assault on freedom of thought and speech.
“These are the freedoms that underpin all our rights and liberties,” he said. “Salman has been an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world. He is a fiery and generous spirit, a man of immense talent and courage and he will not be deterred.”
Author Taslima Nasreen, who was forced to flee her home in Bangladesh after a court said that she had hurt Muslims’ religious faith with her novel Lajja, said she was worried for the safety of others who were critical of Islam.
“I am really shocked,” she said. “I never thought it would happen. He has been living in the West, and he has been protected since 1989. If he is attacked, anyone who is critical of Islam can be attacked.”
The Norwegian publisher of The Satanic Verses, William Nygaard, said Rushdie has paid a high price, Reuters reported. Rushdie, he added, is a “leading author who has meant so much to literature”. Nygaard was shot and severely injured in 1993 at Oslo.
Rushdie’s publishers at Penguin Random House also criticised the attack. “We condemn this violent public assault, and our thoughts are with Salman and his family at this distressing time,” a statement from the publishing house read.
Author Neil Gaiman said that he was “shocked and distressed” by the attack.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said he was “utterly horrified and shocked” by the attack on Rushdie. “I recognise that life for him can never be the same again,” he wrote on Twitter. “A sad day, worse if creative expression can no longer be free and open.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was appalled that Rushdie was stabbed “while exercising a right we should never cease to defend”.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Rushdie “embodied freedom and the fight against obscurantism”. The author was “the victim of a cowardly attack by the forces of hatred and barbarism”, he added.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said that a state police officer had saved the author’s life by halting the attack. She praised the quick response of the authorities to what she described was a “horrific event”, adding that her thoughts were with Rushdie’s family and loved ones.
US Senator Charles E Schumer described the attack as shocking and appalling. He added, “It is an attack on freedom of speech and thought, which are two bedrock values of our country and of the Chautauqua Institution.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, raised concerns that people might rush to blame Muslims or Islam for the attack even as the suspect’s motive is not established yet, The New York Times reported. The organisation is the country’s largest Muslim human rights group.
“American Muslims, like all Americans, condemn any violence targeting anyone in our society,” the spokesperson, Ibrahim Hooper, said. “That goes without saying. We will have to monitor the situation and see what facts come to light.”
Friday’s attack on Rushdie took place more than 33 years after Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for his death. The author, who currently lives in the United States, had been living under police protection for many years because of threats to his life.