Salman Rushdie has lost the use of an eye and cannot move one hand as a result of a stabbing attack he suffered at a speaking event in upstate New York in August, according to the author’s agent Andrew Wylie.
The 75-year-old Rushdie, who has lived under a death threat from Iran for several decades, suffered multiple stab wounds to the neck, chest and torso and was airlifted by helicopter for emergency surgery after the incident.
“[His wounds] were profound, but he’s [also] lost the sight of one eye,” Wylie told the Spanish newspaper El País. “One hand is incapacitated because the nerves in his arm were cut. And he has about 15 more wounds in his chest and torso.”
Wylie would not disclose Rushdie’s whereabouts but added: “He’s going to live . . . that’s the important thing.”
Rushdie’s 1988 book The Satanic Verses generated controversy for how it depicted the Prophet Mohammed, with some Muslims saying it was blasphemous. The book was banned in Iran and, in 1989, the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or legal ruling, calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie.
Following the death threat, Rushdie went into hiding. He lived under armed guard and adopted the alias Joseph Anton.
Over the past two decades the winner of the Booker Prize for Midnight’s Children in 1981 had gradually returned to a more normal life. The attack occurred while he was being interviewed on stage at the Chautauqua Institution, about a 90-minute drive south-west of Buffalo in western New York state. Rushdie was taken to a Pennsylvania hospital and was briefly put on a ventilator.
Hadi Matar, 24, from Fairview, New Jersey, was arrested shortly afterwards and charged with attempted murder and assault. Matar, who remains in custody, has pleaded not guilty.
From prison, Matar said Khomeini had been a “great person” and that Rushdie was someone who had “attacked Islam”, in an interview with the New York Post. Tehran has denied being involved in the incident. During the interview, Matar said he had read only a few pages of Rushdie’s writing.
Wylie compared the attack to John Lennon’s murder in Central Park in 1980 for its randomness and said he and Rushdie had discussed the risk of an ambush in a public setting after the fatwa.
“[You] can’t protect against that because it’s totally unexpected and illogical,” said Wylie.
He added that the world was going through “a very troubled period. I think nationalism is on the rise, a sort of fundamentalist right is on the rise . . . throughout Europe, Latin America and the US.”