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‘An idiot’: Salman Rushdie on the man who stabbed him in the face

The author, who has lost 40 pounds since the incident and been left blind in one eye, has given his first in-depth interview months after the attack in New York last summer

Ellie Harrison
Monday 06 February 2023 12:37 GMT
Moment Salman Rushdie's attacker apprehended on stage

Salman Rushdie has given his first in-depth interview since he was stabbed on stage before a lecture in New York last August, revealing the extent of his injuries.

The Indian-born British-American novelist, 75, was stabbed around 12 times at the Chautauqua Institution after a man rushed onto the stage.

Hadi Matar, 24, was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree attempted murder and one count of second-degree assault in relation to the attack. He pleaded not guilty and his trial is likely to take place in 2024.

Rushdie has been under threat of attack since the 1988 publication of his book The Satanic Verses triggered a wave of controversy for its depiction of the prophet Muhammad.

Iran’s former spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the execution of the author, after which Rushdie was forced to spend years in hiding.

A new profile in The New Yorker reveals that Rushdie has lost more than 40 pounds in weight since the stabbing. The attack has left him blind in his right eye, and writer David Remnick notes: “There is scar tissue on the right side of his face. He speaks as fluently as ever, but his lower lip droops on one side. The ulnar nerve in his left hand was badly damaged.”

Rushdie joked that people like him better now that he has survived an assassination attempt. “Now that I’ve almost died, everybody loves me,” he said.

The novelist said of his attacker: “I don’t know what I think of him, because I don’t know him. All I’ve seen is his idiotic interview in the New York Post. Which only an idiot would do.

“I know that the trial is still a long way away. It might not happen until late next year. I guess I’ll find out some more about him then.”

Rushdie and his latest book ‘Victory City’ (Rachel Eliza Griffiths)

Reflecting on how he’d tried to live a full life since coming out of hiding, and was left unscathed for a long time, he added: “That was my mistake, back then. Not only did I live but I tried to live well. Bad mistake. Get 15 stab wounds, much better.”

Talking about the future and his career, he said: “I’m going to tell you really truthfully, I’m not thinking about the long term. I’m thinking about little step by little step. I just think: ‘Bop till you drop.’”

He suggested he would write a sequel to his memoir Joseph Anton, which was written in the third person. The new book will likely cover the knife attack. “I think when somebody sticks a knife into you, that’s a first-person story. That’s an ‘I’ story,” Rushdie said.

Read more about Rushdie’s recovery and the nightmares he suffered after the incident, here.

In the meantime, Rushdie’s new novel, Victory City, will be published on 9 February. Read The Independent’s review of the novel here.

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