Home » Salman Rushdie, in first TV interview since near-death attack, says US faces ‘bad moment’ for free speech

Salman Rushdie, in first TV interview since near-death attack, says US faces ‘bad moment’ for free speech

by John Jefferson
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Famed author Salman Rushdie has given his first major televised interview after the stabbing that nearly killed him two years ago.

Mr Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed in 2022 while preparing to deliver a lecture on free speech in New York. The vicious stabbing put the author in the hospital for six weeks and left him blind in one eye. The attack came after an assassination order was placed on Mr Rushdie — called a “fatwa” — in 1989 because of his novel, The Satanic Verses.

His 1988 novel generated massive controversy and Iran’s former Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, declared it blasphemous because of its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. While the fatwa was later lifted, Mr Rushdie went into hiding for a period before rejoining public life.

Mr Rushdie, in conversation with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes, said the US is facing a “bad moment” for free speech and criticised both sides of the political aisle.

“It used to be the case that very conservative voices were the places from which you would hear that such and such books should be banned or is obscene or disgusting or whatever,” Mr Rushdie told Mr Cooper in the interview televised Sunday.

“The thing that’s different now is that it’s also coming from progressive voices that there are progressive voices saying that certain kinds of speech should be not permitted, because it offends against this or that vulnerable group,” Mr Rushdie continued.

Mr Rushdie also told Mr Cooper about the day he was nearly killed. He gave a chilling account of how he dreamt of the attack just two days before it happened.

“I said to my wife, Eliza, I said, ‘You know, I don’t want to go,’” Mr Rushdie said. “Because of the dream. And then I thought, ‘Don’t be silly. It’s a dream.’”

Salman Rushdie, pictured in October 2023, gave his first televised interview since he was attacked and nearly killed in 2022 over his 1988 novel (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Rushdie is releasing a new memoir that will hit shelves on Tuesday. Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder focuses on his experience of the 2022 attack.

He read passages of the memoir on 60 Minutes, sharing one section about the moments leading up to the stabbing.

“In the corner of my right eye – the last thing my right eye would ever see – I saw the man in black running toward me down the right-hand side of the seating area,” Mr Rushdie read. “Black clothes, black face mask. He was coming in hard and low. A squat missile.”

“I confess, I had sometimes imagined my assassin rising up in some public forum or other, and coming for me in just this way,” he continued. “So my first thought when I saw this murderous shape rushing towards me was, ‘So it’s you. Here you are.’”

Hadi Matar is accused of attacking Rushdie and has been held without bail since the August 2022 attack.

“I don’t like the person. I don’t think he’s a very good person,” Mr Matar previously told officials. “He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”

Mr Matar’s trial, initially scheduled to begin in January, is currently on hold after his attorneys argued they need time to review Mr Rushdie’s forthcoming memoir, which may be used as evidence.

In a section of his memoir, Mr Rushdie addresses his assaillant with powerful words: “Our lives touched each other for an instant and then separated. Mine has improved since that day, by yours has deteriorated. You made a bad gamble. I was the one with the luck.”

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