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The long controversy around Salman Rushdie, and his refusal to stop speaking up

The celebrated author is currently recovering from serious injuries after an attack on his life

-- Shares Facebook Twitter Reddit Email view in app Author Salman Rushdie has often sparked controversy and even incited anger, but the latest protest to his work has left him recovering after sustaining severe injuries during an attack in western New York. Rushdie , who won the Booker Prize for his second novel " Midnight's Children ," was scheduled to appear Friday in a public lecture at the Chautauqua Institute , along with Henry Reese, co-founder and president of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, which provides sanctuary to exiled writers. At the event, a 24-year-old man rushed the stage and stabbed the 75-year-old Rushdie multiple times, including in the neck and stomach. Rushdie also received puncture wounds in his right eye, chest and thigh. Reese was also injured. Rushdie's son Zafar Rushdie said in statement released Sunday that the writer's injuries are " life changing ." According to Rushdie's agent, Andrew Wylie , Rushdie was on a ventilator for a time and will likely lose his eye. Rushdie has done few events over the years, canceling a planned appearance at a literature festival in India, where he was born, a decade ago after protests. The celebrated author has lived under a cloud of controversy and threats on his life for a long time yet has never relinquished his support of free speech. Related Why "The Satanic Verses" remains so controversial The dissent of the divine In 1988, Rushdie published his fourth novel, "The Satanic Verses." Described as " one of the most controversial books in recent literary history ," multiple countries, including Bangladesh and Pakistan, promptly banned it. Like Rushdie's previous novels, the book utilizes magical realism, a style where the world is presented realistically except for elements of magic or the supernatural. As Vox describes it, "authors in the magical realism genre deliberately withhold information about the magic in their created world in order to present the magical events as ordinary occurrences, and to present the incredible as normal." "Literature is the unafraid form." In " The Satanic Verses ," Rushdie tells the fictional story of two Indian actors, linked when they both miraculously survive a mid-air plane bombing caused by hijacking. The characters transform, personifying good and evil. The title and the controversy relate to the Quranic Satanic Verses. With his novel, Rushdie was accused of mocking some of the tenets of Muslim religious beliefs. As Salon wrote in 2018, 30 years after the book's first publication: "Rushdie appears to cast doubt on the divine nature of the Quran." The reaction to the book was swift. Thousands protested in the capital city of Pakistan outside the American Cultural Center, which left multiple people dead. The novel was whisked off of public display in bookstores in Brittan; it was burned in protests there. The book's launch event included bomb-sniffing dogs . The threat of death A few months after publication, Rushdie learned his life was gravely in danger via a phone call from a journalist. As Salon wrote in a 2012 interview with Rushdie, a BBC reporter called the writer and asked "How does it feel" now that the Ayatollah Khomeini had sentenced him to death? The fatwa , a legal ruling on a point of Islamic law, called for Rushdie's death because of his book, which some considered blasphemous. Soon, Rushdie lived in hiding and under police protection, going by a fake name. In 2012, he published a memoir " Joseph Anton ," the title of which was the pseudonym he had lived under for so long. According to Rushdie, he did not see his son much during his years in hiding, and his marriage at the time ended. He told Salon in the 2012 interview: "I lost my 40s, essentially. I was 41 when this started, and the 40s are supposed to be the prime of a man's life." Instead, Iran announced in 2009, when the writer was well out of his 40s, that the ruling calling for the death of Rushdie was "still valid," according to Al Jazeera . "We need to have the courage of our convictions ... we are privileged to live in one of the relatively few countries in the world where we get to say what we think." But Rushdie did not stay silent. Although he said it was difficult to write under these threats, he published multiple books, including " Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights ." In 2014, he won the PEN/Pinter Prize for his support of other writers and freedom of speech. The next year, he warned free speech was in danger in his passionate, opening remarks at the Frankfurt Book Fair . "Publishers and writers are not warriors, we have not tanks. But it falls to us to hold the line," he said. "We challenge ourselves and refuse to take the world as a given. We challenge all correctives of opinion, all appeasements, all fears. Literature is the unafraid form." A resurgence In the wake of the recent attack on Rushdie, many of his words were recirculated, including this quote, from an interview with the BBC World Service : "Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people . . . But it doesn't occur to me to burn the bookshop down. If you don't like a book, read another book." Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter , Crash Course. As Rushdie, who became a U.S. citizen in 2016 after living in New York for decades, told Salon in 2012, "We need to have the courage of our convictions. That we need to understand that we are privileged to live in one of the relatively few countries in the world where we get to say what we think. Yes, that means that some of those utterances will be unlikable, even objectionable, even insulting, because not everybody thinks well, not everybody's a nice person. But if you're going to have the good fortune of living in this kind of society, then you have to cherish it and defend it, that's just full stop." Read more about Salman Rushdie Religion is a "medieval form of unreason": Salman Rushdie responds to Paris attacks Salman Rushdie, screenwriter: Getting around protesters "was like the end of 'Argo'" Third_read_more_article By Alison Stine Alison Stine is a staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels " Trashlands " and " Road Out of Winter ," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others. MORE FROM Alison Stine Related Topics ------------------------------------------ Authors Books Explainer Free Speech Literature Salman Rushdie Writing Related Articles Advertisement: Advertisement: Trending Articles from Salon Advertisement: Advertisement:

Monday, August 15, 2022 at 10:03 pm

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