Salman Rushdie, the preeminent novelist who had been living under the threat of an assassination since the publication of his controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, is thankfully alive and recovering from a premeditated and frenzied attack on August 12.
“The road to recovery has begun,” Andrew Wylie, his agent, said on August 14. “It will be long. The injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction.”
Mercifully, Rushdie has been removed from a ventilator after undergoing hours of surgery and has started to talk. The attacker damaged Rushdie’s liver, one of his eyes (which may have to be removed), and severed the nerves in an arm.
This vicious attack is an intolerable assault against every precept of decency and freedom of expression. Only in Islamic fundamentalist societies like Iran is it acceptable.
Hadi Matar, the 24-year-old perpetrator, is most probably an Islamic radical who despised Rushdie and his ideas. He stabbed Rushdie roughly ten times before he was scheduled to speak at a literary event at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York state.
Matar is an American citizen from Fairview, New Jersey, whose family hails from Yaroun, a Shi’a Muslim village in southern Lebanon, near the Israeli border, which apparently has close ties with Hezbollah.
He has been arrested on charges of second-degree attempted murder and assault with a weapon, and is due to appear in court on August 19.
Rushdie, a 75-year-old secular Muslim from India who has resided in New York City for the past few years, has been living dangerously since The Satanic Verses was published in the late 1980s. The novel, which fictionalized aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life, offended a considerable number of Muslims, particularly in Iran, India and Pakistan.
It was condemned as blasphemous by revolutionary Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who issued a fatwa against Rushdie, his editors and publisher. He called on “all valiant Muslims, wherever they may be,” to kill them “so that no one will dare insult the sacred beliefs of Muslims henceforth.”
“Whoever is killed in this cause will be a martyr” and ascend instantly to heaven, he added. Iran offered a $3 million-plus bounty on Rushdie’s life. A hunted man, Rushdie went into hiding for the next decade under an assumed name and British police protection.
In 1991, the Japanese translator of the novel was stabbed to death and its Italian translator was severely wounded. Its Norwegian publisher was seriously shot in Oslo in 1993.
Matar, in all probability, was a lone wolf attacker. The Iranian government, while denying its involvement, has squarely blamed Rushdie for it. On August 15, Nasser Kanaani, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said, “By insulting the sacred matters of Islam and crossing the red lines of more than one-and-a-half billion Muslims and all followers of the divine religions, Salman Rushdie has exposed himself to the anger and rage of the people.”
Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, believes Rushdie is an apostate whose murder would be legitimized by Islam. Khamenei’s predecessor, Mohammed Khatami, distanced himself from Khomeini’s fatwa in 1998.
Kayhan, a hardline conservative newspaper in Tehran supportive of the Iranian regime, gloated over Rushdie’s near-death trauma: “A thousand bravos … to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie in New York. The hand of the man who tore the neck of God’s enemy must be kissed.”
The newspaper went on to say that Matar had exacted “divine vengeance” on Rushdie, and forecast that Donald Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, “are next” in line for retribution.
In light of what has happened, Rushdie will require constant protection from this point onward. Very regrettably, Iran’s toxic fatwa continues to exert a malevolent influence on numerous Muslims around the world.
Certainly, Iran is guilty of inciting violence against progressive, open-minded, non-conformist Muslims.