Salman Rushdie: The writer who barely sleeps with both eyes closed

By Nehru Odeh

Salman Rushdie, famous author of novels such as The midnight children, the satanic verses, the Moor’s last breath, the ground under his feet, was stabbed on Friday morning while on stage at an event in New York.

Rushdie is currently on a ventilator and cannot speak. His arm and liver are injured and he could lose an eye, his agent said.

Meanwhile, New York police have identified the 24-year-old assailant, who was arrested after members of the public shot him, as Hadi Matar of New Jersey.

Although there were no immediate threats prior to this event, authorities believe he acted alone and there is no indication as yet of the attacker’s motive.

Authorities also told a news conference that they were working to determine the charges against Matar. Rushdie is currently undergoing surgery for his injuries.

Although there were no immediate threats before this attack, it is not unrelated to the death threats the Indian-born novelist had received due to his work during a literary career. five decades.

Rushdie had reported that he always received a ‘sort of Valentine’s Day card’ from Iran every year on February 14, letting him know that the country had not forgotten the vow to kill him and called him jokingly “my funny Valentine”.

Rushdie is a multi-award-winning novelist whose fame spans and crosses borders, though his freedom has been curtailed since he published the surreal, postmodern novel Satanic Verses in 1988. The book’s title refers to two verses deleted by the Prophet Muhammad. of the Quran because he believed they were inspired by the devil.

satanic verses not only won him a fatwa (a decree calling for the writer’s assassination), which Iran’s spiritual leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued in 1989, a year after the book’s publication, it caused an international turmoil unprecedented in its magnitude.

The book has been banned in many countries with large Muslim communities (13 in total: Iran, India, Bangladesh, Sudan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, Singapore, Venezuela and Pakistan).

Since then, the 75-year-old writer no longer sleeps with both eyes closed. Death threats were made against him and he was forced into hiding. The British government placed the writer under police protection.

Hadi and Rushdie

The UK and Iran have severed diplomatic ties, but across the Western world authors and scholars have denounced the threat to free speech posed by the Muslim reaction to the book.

When asked on BBC Radio 4 for a response to the threat, Rushdie said: “Frankly, I wish I had written a more critical book” and “I am very sad that this has happened.” It is not true that this book is a blasphemy against Islam. I highly doubt that Khomeini or anyone else in Iran has read the book or more than selected excerpts out of context.

He later wrote that he was “proud, then and always”, of this statement; if he didn’t think his book was particularly critical of Islam, “a religion whose leaders have behaved in this way would probably need a little criticism”.

In January 1989 Muslims in Bradford ritually burned a copy of the book and newsagents WH Smith stopped displaying it there. Rushdie denied the blasphemy charges.

In February of the same year, people were killed in anti-Rushdie riots in the subcontinent, the British Embassy in Tehran was stoned and a bounty of $3 million was put on the head of the ‘author.

Meanwhile, in the UK, some Muslim leaders have called for moderation, others have backed the ayatollah. The United States, France and other Western countries condemned the death threat.

Rushdie – now in hiding with his wife in police custody – expressed deep regret for the distress he had caused Muslims, but the Ayatollah renewed his call for the perpetrator’s death.

The London offices of Viking Penguin, the publishers, were picketed and death threats were received at the New York office.

But the book became a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. Protests against the extreme Muslim reaction have been supported by EEC countries, all of which have temporarily recalled their ambassadors from Tehran.

But the author was not the only one to be threatened on the contents of the book. The Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was found dead at a university northeast of Tokyo in July 1991.

Police said the translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, who worked as an assistant professor of comparative culture, was stabbed multiple times and left in the hallway outside his office at Tsukuba University.

Earlier that same month, the Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was stabbed in his flat in Milan, although he survived the attack.

In February 1997, Ayatollah Hasan Sane’i, head of the bonyad panzdah-e khordad (Fifteenth of Khordad Foundation), reported that the blood money offered by the foundation for Rushdie’s assassination would be increased by 2 million dollars to $2.5 million. a semi-official religious foundation in Iran increased the reward it had offered for Rushdie’s murder from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

However, Rushdie’s death sentence ceased to be officially supported by the Iranian government in 1998.

Rushdie’s other books include midnight children, which earned him the Booker Prize in 1981, a novel for children, Haroun and the Sea of ​​Stories (1990), a book of essays, imaginary homelands (1991), and the novels, Is West (1994), The Moor’s Last Breath (1995), The ground under his feet (1999), and Fury (2001). He participated in the stage adaptation of Midnights Children in 2003.

Over the past two decades he has published Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, Two years eight months and twenty-eight nights, The Golden House and the Quixote.

Rushdie has been married four times and has two children. He now lives in the United States and was knighted in 2007 for his services to literature.

In 2012, he published a memoir about his life following the controversy over satanic verses.

Salman Rushdie was born on June 19, 1947 in Bombay, two months before India’s independence from Britain.

At 14, he was sent to England and rugby school, later earning an honors degree in history at the prestigious Kings College, Cambridge.

He became a British citizen and gave up his Muslim faith. He worked briefly as an actor – he had been in the Cambridge Footlights – then as a copywriter, while writing novels.

His first published book, Grimus, was not a huge success, but some critics saw him as an author with significant potential.

Rushdie took five years to write his second book, midnight childrenwhich won the 1981 Booker Prize. It was widely acclaimed and sold half a million copies.

Where midnight children had been about India, Rushdie’s third novel Shame – released in 1983 – was about a thinly disguised Pakistan. Four years later, Rushdie wrote The smile of the jaguarstory of a trip to Nicaragua.

In September 1988, the work that would endanger his life, satanic verses, has been published. The surreal and post-modernist novel sparked outrage among some Muslims, who considered its content blasphemous.

India was the first country to ban it. Pakistan followed suit, as did various other Muslim countries and South Africa.

The novel received acclaim in many quarters and won the Whitbread Prize for Novels. But the backlash over the book intensified, and two months later street protests escalated.

Rushdie’s work often combines magical realism with historical fiction and primarily deals with connections, disruptions and migrations between Eastern and Western civilizations, set on the Indian subcontinent.