An Associated Press reporter who was on scene in Chautauqua, New York, says a man stormed the stage as Rushdie was being introduced, then began “punching or stabbing” the author.
Photos showed Rushdie lying on the stage receiving medical attention shortly after.
According to the New York State Police, Rushdie, 75, suffered a stab wound to the neck and has been transported to an area hospital via helicopter. The suspect has been taken into custody.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) said at a press conference that Rushdie is alive and “getting the care he needs.” Hochul said the moderator of Rushdie’s event was attacked as well and that more information about the perpetrator is being gathered.
Later in the day, Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, told the New York Times that the author was on a ventilator and could not speak.
“The news is not good,” Wylie said. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”
The leader of PEN America, the free speech group Rushdie used to lead, recoiled in “shock and horror” at the “brutal, premeditated attack.”
“We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” CEO Suzanne Nossel said in a statement. “Our thoughts and passions now lie with our dauntless Salman, wishing him a full and speedy recovery. We hope and believe fervently that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”
Nossel declined to speculate on the origins or motives for the attack, instead laying blame on “all those around the world who have met words with violence or called for the same.”
Rushdie has long been targeted by the Iranian regime in response to his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses.” Iran’s leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, deemed the book blasphemous and issued a fatwa, calling for Rushdie’s execution and offering a multimillion-dollar bounty.
Rushdie was forced into hiding after the book’s publication triggered an uproar and others who worked on the novel were also targeted.
The book’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was killed, and its Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, survived a stabbing attack.
In 1993, the novel’s Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was seriously injured in a shooting outside his home in Oslo.
Rushdie emerged from hiding nearly a decade later, describing the previous nine years he’d spent under police protection as resembling a “comedy routine” at times.
He told the Guardian in a 2013 interview that he’d had no idea the book would trigger such a firestorm ― let alone murderous intent.
“International terrorism leveled against translators, publishers and writers wasn’t something that we knew about,” he said. “People who were conservative Muslim believers had not liked any of my books, so I expected them not to like it and my view was, ‘So what?’”
“In general if you don’t want to read a book then don’t: that’s why there are all these books in bookstores for you to chose from,” he added. “If you start reading a book and you don’t like it you always have the option of shutting it. At this point it loses its capacity to offend you.”