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Surviving a Near-Fatal 2022 Assault: Salman Rushdie Reflects on the Ordeal While Crafting “Knife”

Salman Rushdie has been a targeted individual for a significant portion of his life. In 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini condemned his book, “The Satanic Verses,” as sacrilegious and called for his assassination. Rushdie spent a decade in seclusion under constant police protection before relocating to the United States, where he believed he was secure. However, in August 2022, a Muslim assailant wielding a knife attacked him just as he was preparing to address a literary gathering in Chautauqua, New York. This brutal assault resulted in Rushdie, now 76 years old, losing his right eye and narrowly escaping death. To come to terms with this traumatic experience, he authored a book titled “Knife,” slated for release this Tuesday. This marks his initial television appearance following the harrowing incident.

During the interview with Anderson Cooper, Rushdie recounted a premonitory dream he had before the assault, expressing his apprehension about attending the event due to this unsettling vision. Despite his extensive experience speaking publicly in the United States over the past two decades without security detail, the absence of venue security at Chautauqua left him vulnerable. Ironically, Rushdie’s intended discourse focused on safeguarding imperiled writers, underscoring the need for safe havens for international authors in America and other regions.

Rushdie’s notoriety stems from his controversial novel, “The Satanic Verses,” which provoked outrage within the Muslim community for its portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad. Following the book’s publication, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s execution, sparking global protests and acts of violence. Despite the ensuing turmoil and multiple assassination attempts orchestrated by state-backed operatives, Rushdie emerged from hiding in 1998 following diplomatic negotiations.

The author’s recollection of the attack at Chautauqua vividly captures the terrifying moment when the assailant lunged at him, inflicting multiple wounds, including the loss of his eye. Rushdie’s survival, despite sustaining fifteen injuries during the 27-second assault, was attributed to the swift intervention of the audience members who restrained the attacker. The subsequent medical efforts to save his life, including an eight-hour surgery, underscored the gravity of the situation.

Reflecting on the profound impact of the attack, Rushdie acknowledged the lasting shadow it has cast over his life, emphasizing the ongoing process of readjustment and acceptance of his altered reality. Despite grappling with the trauma and physical repercussions, Rushdie remains resolute in his commitment to reclaiming his narrative through the power of language, as evidenced by his latest work, “Knife.”

The assailant, a 24-year-old from New Jersey, has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and awaits trial. Rushdie’s refusal to dwell on the attacker’s motives underscores his focus on moving forward and reclaiming his narrative from the shadows of violence and intimidation. As Rushdie continues to navigate life with resilience and determination, his unwavering spirit serves as a testament to the enduring power of storytelling and the human will to transcend adversity.