Salman Rushdie stabbed on stage at New York event

Sir Salman Rushdie speaks onstage at the Guild Hall Academy Of The Arts Achievement Awards 2020 at the Rainbow Room on March 03, 2020 in New York City. Photo: Getty Images

Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born novelist who was ordered to be killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked on stage at an event in New York and suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, according to New York State Police and an eyewitness.

A man rushed to the stage at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state and attacked Mr Rushdie as he was being introduced to give a talk on artistic freedom, an eyewitness said. A State Trooper present at the event took the attacker into custody, police reported.

The novelist fell to the floor when the man attacked him, and was then surrounded by a small group of people who held up his legs, seemingly to send more blood to his upper body, as the attacker was restrained, according to a witness attending the lecture who asked not to be named.

Mr Rushdie was immediately taken by helicopter to a hospital. According to the Reuters press agency, he is currently undergoing surgery.

"More information is being gathered about the perpetrator," she added.

The police statement gave no motive for the attack.

“We are dealing with an emergency situation,” a Chautauqua Institution spokesperson said when contacted by Reuters.

Salman Rushdie, who was born into an Indian Muslim family, has faced death threats for his fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims said contained blasphemous passages. The novel was banned in many countries with large Muslim populations upon its 1988 publication.

A year later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Iran’s supreme leader, pronounced a fatwa, or religious edict, calling upon Muslims to kill the novelist for blasphemy.

Mr Rushdie went into hiding for many years. The Iranian government said in 1998 it would no longer back the fatwa, and the novelist has lived relatively openly in recent years. Iranian organisations, however, have raised a bounty worth millions of dollars for his murder.

Mr Rushdie was at the Chautauqua Institution to take part in a discussion about the United States serving as an asylum for writers and artists in exile and “as a home for freedom of creative expression,” according to the institution’s website.

He became an American citizen in 2016 and lives in New York City. He has been critical of oppression in his native India, including under the Hindu-nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

US Senator Chuck Schumer of New York called the incident “an attack on freedom of speech and thought.”