Writers, intellectuals, and political leaders came out in unison to decry the attack on Salman Rushdie in New York on Friday. They expressed shock at the attack on the Midnight’s Children author, who was stabbed multiple times at an event.
Rushdie was stabbed in the neck and torso during a lecture and airlifted to a hospital, police said.
The 75-year-old Indian-origin author is currently on a ventilator after undergoing surgery. He has suffered severe damage to his nerves — the stabbing has also pierced his liver and he may lose an eye, Andrew Wylie, Rushdie’s book agent said.
French President Emmanuel Macron came out in support of the author and said France stood in solidarity with Rushdie. “For 33 years, Salman Rushdie has embodied freedom and the fight against obscurantism. He has just been the victim of a cowardly attack by the forces of hatred and barbarism. His fight is our fight; it is universal. Now more than ever, we stand by his side,” he tweeted.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among the first world leaders to condemn the stabbing, calling it an attack on Rushdie’s freedom of expression. “Appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend. Right now, my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay,” the outgoing UK Conservative Party leader tweeted.
The Mumbai-born writer is a British subject and spent years in hiding following the release of The Satanic Verses after Iran called a fatwa and urged Muslims to kill him for alleged blasphemy.
Rishi Sunak, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer and candidate to replace Johnson as prime minister, also expressed his shock. “Shocked to hear of the attack on Salman Rushdie in New York. A champion of free speech and artistic freedom. He’s in our thoughts tonight,” he tweeted.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, another leader in the running to succeed Johnson, tweeted: “Disgraceful attack on Sir Salman Rushdie. People must be able to speak freely and freedom of speech must be defended. My thoughts are with him, his family and loved ones.”
The attack on Rushdie “appalled” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said that in no case was violence a response.
“The Secretary-General was appalled to learn of the attack on renowned novelist Salman Rushdie,” he said in a statement.
“In no case is violence a response to words spoken or written by others in their exercise of the freedoms of opinion and expression.”
Author Taslima Nasreen, who has spent nearly three decades in exile from Bangladesh following the release of her book Lajja, said that anyone critical of Islam “can be attacked”.
“I just learned that Salman Rushdie was attacked in New York. I am really shocked. 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. I am worried,” she wrote.
Lyricist Javed Akhtar also came out in support of the Booker Prize-winning author and demanded strict action against the attacker.
“I condemn the barbaric attack on Salman Rushdie by some fanatic. I hope that NY police and the court will take the strongest action possible against the attacker,” he tweeted.
British-born historian William Dalrymple, meanwhile, called the attack a “terrible day for literature”.
“A terrible day for literature, for freedom of speech and for authors everywhere. Poor poor Salman: I pray he’s not hurt and recovers quickly,” he tweeted.
New Jersey resident Hadi Matar, 24, has been identified as the suspect and taken into custody, the New York State Police said.
The police did not describe the weapon and said they had not zeroed in on the motive. “But we are working with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), the Sheriff’s Office and we will determine what the cause of this was and what the motive for this attack was,” said Major Eugene Staniszewski of the New York State Police.
Rushdie’s publishers at Penguin Random House said in a statement: “We condemn this violent public assault, and our thoughts are with Salman and his family at this distressing time.”
With inputs from agencies