On 12th August, author Salman Rushdie was attacked in a lecture theatre in Chautauqua, New York. He was stabbed multiple times in the face, abdomen, and neck as he sought to commence his lecture at the venue.
The 75-year old novelist fell on the stage before he was taken to the hospital where he was put on a ventilator. Reports from his close aides verify that he is out of danger now. The attacker, identified as Hadi Matar, is a 24-year old man from New Jersey. Matar is awaiting trial since he was captured on the spot by the police.
Salman Rushdie was born in India to liberal Muslim parents. He holds British and American nationality. He moved to the United Kingdom at the age of 14. Later, he became an atheist and started writing more freely. A lot of chapters from history have been reopened to make sense of the horrific event. The reason behind the attack, however, is simple: The Satanic Verses. Rushdie wrote this novel in 1988. This is his most famous piece of work, not his best one though. The reason behind its popularity is not its literary genius but its controversiality.
The novel is mostly condemned in the Muslim world because of its underhand criticism of Islam. In 1989, a fatwa issued by Iran’s then supreme leader Ruhollah Khomenei called for his assassination because of the alleged blasphemous slurs present in the novel. Following the fatwa, he was put under police custody by the British government. Since then, he faced years of death threats for his novel. In 2005, the fatwa was reaffirmed by the subsequent supreme leader of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini. Rushdie has been in and out of custody ever since publishing the novel. A $3 million (£2.5m) bounty is still valid on his head. It is being alleged that this bounty motivated Matar to stab Rushdie.
He is not the only one under threat. In 1991, the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was found slain outside his office in Tsukuba University, Japan. The Italian and Norwegian translators were also attacked but survived.
Following the attack, both cheers and condemnations have been observed throughout the world. Authors advocating free speech have condemned the attack. J. K Rowling, the author of the famous book series Harry Potter, also expressed disapproval of the incident through her Twitter handle. As a response, she received threats from an account based in South Asia. The same account had praised the attacker. The police have started investigating the online threat. Twitter removed the account afterwards for violating its policy.
Leftist academics consider the attack an attack on freedom of expression. The centrist scholars from around the world condemn not only the attack but also Rushdie’s alleged insulting of the religion of more than 1.8 billion people worldwide. The right-wing, however, stands with the fatwa. Khomnei has said that the fatwa was “fired like a bullet that would not rest until it hits its target”. Threats to Rushdie and his supporters’ lives are likely to remain persistent throughout his remaining life.