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. Andrew Wylie, of The Wylie Agency, confirmed Salman was in surgery following the attack. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said he was alive in a statement.
“He is alive. He has been transported, airlifted to safety, but he is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power. Someone who’s been out there unafraid despite the threats that have followed him his entire adult life, it seems,” she said.
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 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 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 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. “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 more than a dozen books and six of his novels are USA TODAY best sellers, most notably “The Satanic Verses,” which has been banned in Iran since the late ’80s, as many Muslims consider it to be blasphemous. After the book was published, Iran’s leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
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.
It is not clear if the Aug. 12 attack had any connection to the edict.
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 Miguel de 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
Book bans are on the rise:What are the most banned books and why?