- A cross-section of them took to social media to condemn the attacks; criticize the Indian government's muted reaction.
Indian Americans are heaving a sigh of relief as renowned author Salman Rushdie is out of danger and on a path to recovery. His friends, authors, fans and well-wishers, have been on the edge since Aug. 12, when Rushdie, 75, was stabbed right before delivering a lecture in Upstate New York at the Chautauqua Institution.
A day later, on Aug. 13, he was removed from a ventilator, and was able to talk, according to a statement from his agent Andrew Wylie. In a statement a day later, Rushdie’s son Zafar Rushdie said that though his father suffered severe “life changing injuries, his usual feisty and defiant sense of humor remains intact.” He also expressed gratitude for the “audience members who bravely lept to his defense,” as well as the police, doctors and “the outpouring of love and support from around the world.”
However, Wylie cautioned in the statement that although Rushdie’s “condition is headed in the right direction,” his recovery would be long. Rushdie suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye that he was likely to lose, Wylie had previously said, according to news reports.
The man accused of the attack, Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, has been charged with second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault.
The Aug. 12 attack came after years of Islamist death threats against Rushdie over “The Satanic Verses,” published in 1988, which depicted a character modeled on the Prophet Muhammad. “It drew criticism from Muslim community leaders in Britain, who denounced the novel as blasphemous,” Britannica said in its profile on Rushdie. On Feb.14, 1989, the spiritual leader of revolutionary Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, publicly condemned the book and issued a fatwa against Rushdie; “a bounty was offered to anyone who would execute him,” Britannica said. “He went into hiding under the protection of Scotland Yard, and — although he occasionally emerged unexpectedly, sometimes in other countries — he was compelled to restrict his movements.” Before the fatwa was issued, the book had already been banned and burned in India and Pakistan and elsewhere. “Khomeini died that same year, but the fatwa remains in effect — though Iran, in recent years, hadn’t focused on Rushdie,” Britannica said.
Relief and Hope
Celebrity chef, author and host Padma Lakshmi, who was married to Rushdie from 2004 to 2007, tweeted saying she was “relieved” that he was on the mend. “Worried and wordless, can finally exhale. Now hoping for swift healing.”
Several Indian Americans who knew Rushdie as a friend or on a professional level told American Kahani that they were shocked at the attack. Aroon Shivdasani, the former executive director of the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC) and a friend of Rushdie, called it a vicious and horrific attack. Shivdasani, who’s currently in a holiday in Europe, said she’s “praying for Salman’s recovery.”
“My heart goes out to him and his family,” said actress, producer and author Sheetal Sheth. “Salmanji is as bold and fearless as they come and a true original. The fact that violent attacks are becoming the norm in dealing with a difference in opinion is horrifying on every level.”
Author Chitra Divakaruni said she was “shocked and horrified by this attack on Salman Rushdie.” Calling it “an attack on freedom of expression,” she said her “thoughts are with him and his family.”
Others like filmmakers Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta took to Twitter. “Praying for Salman Rushdie’s recovery every minute. What a blow to our beloved midnight’s child – and to us all,” Nair tweeted.
Mehta, who adapted Rushdie’s epic novel “Midnight’s Children” for a 2012 film of the same name, called him “the gentlest, kindest, funniest and the most brilliant.”
An Essential Voice and Role Model
Like Divakaruni, the news disturbed authors from across South Asia and the diaspora. Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy told BBC that she was “almost speechless with sorrow and anger.” She noted how Rushdie “also supported other writers across the world who have been suffering from other sorts of pressures. For something like this to happen to a person like Rushdie, it’s really destabilizing for a lot of us.”
Taslima Nasreen, in a tweet, wrote that she’s worried for her own safety after the attack on Rushdie. The Bangladeshi author was forced to flee her home in Bangladesh after a court said her novel Lajja offended Muslims’ religious faith. “I just learned that Salman Rushdie was attacked in New York,” she wrote. “I am really shocked. I never thought it would happen. He has been living in the West, and he has been protected since 1989. If he is attacked, anyone who is critical of Islam can be attacked. I am worried.”
Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini took to Twitter. “I’m utterly horrified by the cowardly attack on Salman Rushdie. I pray for his recovery. He is an essential voice and cannot be silenced.”
JK Rowling and Stephen King also tweeted messages of support. “I’m trying to cheer myself up this afternoon,” King wrote on Aug. 12. “What happened to Salman Rushdie preys on my mind.”
A tweet by Rowling condemning Rushdie’s attack was received with a threat. The author is best known for her fantasy book series “Harry Potter.” In another tweet, she posted a screenshot of the tweet and asked Twitter for support.
Many expressed their admiration for Rushdie’s determination and work. For actor and author Kal Penn, Rushdie is “a role model for an entire generation of artists.”
British-American writer and journalist Aatish Taseer said he was devastated by the news. In 2019, Taseer had his Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card revoked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Rushdie was the first writer Taseer ever met “and his determination to defend his freedom (and that of others) in the face of religious extremism has been a constant inspiration. I know he will be ok. He has to be.”
The Prolific Writer
Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family, has lived in Britain and the U.S. His father was a prosperous businessman in India. Rushdie was educated at Rugby School and the University of Cambridge, where he received an M.A. degree in history in 1968. Throughout most of the 1970s, he worked in London as an advertising copywriter, according to the Britannica profile.
His first published novel, “Grimus,” was published in 1975. Rushdie’s next novel, “Midnight’s Children” (1981), a fable about modern India, “was an unexpected critical and popular success that won him international recognition,” Britannica said. A film adaptation, for which he drafted the screenplay, was released in 2012. Rushdie received the Booker Prize in 1981 for “Midnight’s Children,” which subsequently won the Booker of Bookers (1993) and the Best of the Booker (2008).
According to the Britannica profile, Rushdie’s “allegorical novels examine historical and philosophical issues by means of surreal characters, brooding humor, and an effusive and melodramatic prose style. His treatment of sensitive religious and political subjects made him a controversial figure.”
“Despite the standing death threat, Rushdie continued to write,” Britannica said, producing “Imaginary Homelands (1991),” a collection of essays and criticism; the children’s novel “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” (1990); the short-story collection “East, West” (1994); and the novel “The Moor’s Last Sigh” (1995).
After nearly a decade, when the Iranian government announced in 1998, that it would no longer seek to enforce its fatwa against Rushdie, he recounted his experience in the third-person memoir “Joseph Anton” (2012). The book’s title refers to an alias he adopted while in seclusion.
Following his return to public life, Rushdie published several novels including “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” (1999) and “Fury” (2001), “Shalimar the Clown” (2005), and “Don Quichotte” (2019), among others.
He was knighted in 2007, “an honor criticized by the Iranian government and Pakistan’s parliament,” the Britannica profile said. He became an American citizen in 2016.
A Fearless Champion of Free Speech
Throughout the years, and after the attack, many have lauded his bravery and longtime championing of free speech in the face of intimidation, and the might of the pen. “The pen will always prevail over the knife,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said while speaking to reporters and a group of more than 200 people gathered at Chautauqua Institution’s Hall of Philosophy on Aug. 14, as reported by Buffalo News.
In a statement released on Aug. 13, President Joe Biden said “Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced — stands for essential, universal ideals — Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear.”
Vice President Kamala Devi Harris tweeted saying, “Doug and I were appalled by the attack on author Salman Rushdie this week. People should be able to share ideas without fear—the basis of any free and open society. Violence and hate have no place.”
Muted Response From India, Pakistan, Celebration In Iran
Tasser was among a few who criticized the muted reaction by India to the attack. Natwar Singh, external affairs minister at the time, defended the ban on Aug. 13, “justifying it as necessary to avoid law and order problems,” The Guardian noted. Singh told the Press Trust of India what he told the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi when asked what he thought about banning the book. “All my life I have been totally opposed to banning books, but when it comes to law and order, even a book of a great writer like Rushdie should be banned. “The entire Muslim world is going to flare up. We have a large number of Muslims and apart from that, what the book contains at this time is not acceptable.”
There was no statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP or the Gandhi family. There was much criticism on Twitter of the reaction of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. “I also read about it. This is something that the whole world has noticed and the whole world has reacted to such an attack,” he said while addressing a press conference in Karnataka.
However, opposition leaders in India took to social media to express shock over the news. Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor wished Rushdie “a speedy & complete recovery from his wounds, even though, with a sinking heart, I recognize that life for him can never be the same again. A sad day, worse if creative expression can no longer be free & open.”
Former Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Kapil Sibal, in a Facebook post, called the attack “unacceptable” and stressed that we “must show zero tolerance towards hate.”
Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted: “Condemn the cowardly attack on Salman Rushdie, this is yet another reminder of what hate and religious fanaticism can do. Here’s wishing the brave author a speedy recovery.”
There was silence in Bollywood as well, except for outspoken actress Kangana Ranaut and lyricist Javed Akhtar who condemned the attack and demanded strict punishment for the guilty. “Kashmir Files” director Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, who criticized Akhtar’s tweet and questioned his silence in the Nupur Sharma controversy, wrote: “The attacker of Salman Rushdie wasn’t even born when the book was written. This is how radical brainwashing works.
In neighboring Pakistan, The Guardian reported that “there was a deep silence from celebrated writers and politicians following the attack on the author. In a tweet, writer Mehr Tarar wrote: “Salman Rushdie, excl Satanic Verses, is one of the greatest writers of all time. Attacking someone for his novel – written 33 years ago as an atheist, non-believer in Islam or something else he wrote – makes no sense at all. Our Islam doesn’t allow anyone to be killed for their views.”
“More than a hundred people reacted to her tweet,” the Guardian noted, including a user named Tariq Khan, who wrote: “I respect you a lot, but don’t indulge in this matter. If I were there, I could have done worse.”
In Iran, there was a celebration. An Iranian official on Aug. 15 denied Tehran was involved in the stabbing. Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, blamed the author and his supporters instead. The state-run newspaper, Iran Daily, praised the attack as an “implementation of divine decree.” Another hardline newspaper, Kayhan, termed it “divine revenge” that would partially calm the anger of Muslims, news reports said.