CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y. — Salman Rushdie, the USA TODAY best selling author whose writing led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was attacked Friday as he was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York.
New York police said a state trooper assigned to the event took a suspect into custody following the attack. Rushdie’s condition was not immediately known.
Travis Seward, general manager for 10Best at USA TODAY, was at the event. He witnessed a man “bound” toward the stage from the audience with his “arms out swinging.” Seward said he did not hear the man shout anything, and that Rushdie tried to get away from the attacker and fell. It was not apparent if the assailant had a weapon from where Seward was, but a police said the author suffered an “apparent stab wound to the neck.”
“It’s really unsettling to everybody here,” Seward said. “It’s a peaceful place and it was unexpected.”
A New York State Police press release Friday said at about 11 a.m., a man “ran up onto the stage and attacked Rushdie and an interviewer.”
Rushdie suffered “an apparent stab wound to the neck,” and he was transported to an area hospital by helicopter, police said, while the “interviewer suffered a minor head injury.”
The Chautauqua Institution “is currently coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials on a public response,” according to a statement emailed to USA TODAY.
USA TODAY has reached out to police and Rushdie’s representative for comment.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, a nonprofit organization that works to defend free expression through the advancement of literature and human rights, said in an emailed statement Friday that Rushdie had been “targeted for his words.”
“PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former President and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie,” Nossel said in the statement of Rushdie, who is a former PEN America president. “We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil. … We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.
Rushdie is the author of 14 novels, six of which are USA TODAY best sellers, most notably “The Satanic Verses,” which has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. A year after the book’s ban, Iran’s late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
Iran has also offered over $3 million in reward money for anyone who kills Rushdie.
Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment lingered. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raised the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.
Rushdie dismissed that threat at the time, saying there was “no evidence” of people being interested in the reward.
That year, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa.
Rushdie’s most recent novel, “Quichotte,” was published in 2019. In it, Rushdie puts his spin on the Cervantes classic with a modern-day Don Quixote, satirizing former President Donald Trump’s America. The book was long-listed for the Booker Prize.
Contributing: Joshua Goodman, The Associated Press
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