Attack on Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie shocks the World

Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia

British-Indian author Salman Rushdie, whose controversial writing triggered massive outrage in the Muslim world in the 1980s, was attacked on Friday in New York. The 24-year-old attacker, identified as Hadi Matar from New Jersey, reported stabbed with a knife 10-15 times in 20 seconds, leading to damage of the author’s eyes and liver.  The 75-year-old author is on a ventilator and could not speak, according to his agent Andrew Wylie. Wylie said in a statement obtained by The New York Times that “the news is not good.”

While Rushdie is known for The Satanic Verses, his second novel, “Midnight’s Children” won the Booker Prize. In 2008, the novel was named the “Booker of Bookers” after winning a public vote for the best Booker-winning novel in 40 years of the award. Rushdie, who was born in Bombay in 1947, and lived most of his part in Britain, became the US citizen.

The attacker’s motive not known yet

The New York police arrested the 24-year-old suspect but didn’t so far spell out the motive behind the attack. “The motive behind the attack remains unclear,” officials said. Visuals and images circulating on social media showed some people rushing to the stage and taking the suspect to the ground, before a trooper present at the event arrested him.  Earlier on Friday, the New York State Police said that Matar jumped on the stage soon after Rushdie was introduced and “stabbed him at least once in the neck and at least once in the abdomen”.

Iran media hails, world assails the attack

While several governments condemned the attack, the Iranian government has so far not issued any statement in this regard. Iranian ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan, according to a Times of India report, hailed the act. “Bravo to this courageous and duty-conscious man who attacked the apostate and depraved Salman Rushdie in New York,” wrote the paper. According to Associated Press, the state-run media didn’t assign any motive to the assault, but people in Tehran may chose to give guarded response with some praising the attack. However, mostly believe that the author tried to tarnish the image of Islam by writing the sacrilegious book.

Several prominent citizens, politicians and author condemned the attack. In his response over the attack, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said that he was “utterly horrified and shocked”. Tharoor further said that it is “worse if creative expression can no longer be free and open”. Lyricist Javed Akhtar was quick to condemn the incident calling it a “barbaric attack”. He demanded stringent punishment to the attacker. Author Amitav Ghosh tweeted: Horrified to learn that Salman Rushdie has been attacked at a speaking event in upstate New York. Wish him a speedy recovery.”

The Satanic Verses and Fatwa

Salman Rushdie’s 1988 book, The Satanic Verses, triggered massive protests across the globe as Muslims considered it blasphemous, leading to fatwa against the author Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini urged Muslims to execute the author and the publishers of the book so that “no one will any longer dare to offend the sacred values of Islam.” The Iranian leader in his fatwa announced a bounty of over $3 million for anyone who kills Rushdie. Rushdie went into hiding under a British government protection programme, including a round-the-clock armed guard only to emerge after nine years of seclusion. However, he cautiously resumed. Iran’s government has long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but a hardline Iranian student group in 1998 announced one billion rial (then $333,000) bounty for Rushdie’s head. It is not only in Iran, anger and outrage against the author remained rampant among the Muslims across the globe. The novel was subsequently banned in over a dozen countries, including Pakistan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

India first to ban the book

The Rajiv Gandhi government took the decision the ban the book on October 5, 1988 following demands from the Muslims. Janata Party MP Syed Shahabuddin, who then commanded considerable amount of influence among the Muslims, along with several others exerted pressure on Gandhi for the ban, branding the book as “anti-Islam”. Then Congress parliamentarian Khurshid Alam Khan had claimed that he agreed with freedom of expression, but not if “it meant that you hurt someone else’s feelings.”  Delhi’s Shahi Masjid imam, Abdullah Bukhari warned that it would be very difficult for “Rushdie to remain alive”.  In February 1989, as many as 12 Muslim protesters died while they were marching towards the British High Commission to register protest demonstration against the author. K Natwar Singh, who was a Union minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, strongly defended the ban decision, asserting it was taken “purely” for law and order reasons. Ten years after the ban, the Indian government allowed Rushdie’s entry in spite of widespread agitation and protest demonstration by Muslims. But again in 2012, Rushdie had to cancel his plans to attend Jaipur literature festival in the wake of protests from some Muslim groups.


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