The Indian-born British-American novelist Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) on 19 June 1947, just months before India became independent from Britain. Rushdie’s family, Kashmiri Muslims, moved to Pakistan when he was seventeen. By this time, Rushdie was living in England. He attended Cambridge University, where he studied history. 

Magical Histories

Rushdie became famous after his second novel Midnight’s Children was published. The novel is about magical children born at midnight on the night India became independent. The bestseller, which combined fantasy and reality, won the Booker Prize in 1981. Rushdie’s subsequent book Shame was another acclaimed attempt to make sense of recent Indian and Pakistani history.

Deeply Offensive

A later novel, The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, also initially received praise, although prominent members of the Islamic community were already giving warning signs that its content would cause trouble. The novel contains a plot partly inspired by the life of Muhammad the founder of Islam, and while fictitious, it makes suggestions offensive to many Muslims. The situation escalated, and in 1989 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran, issued a fatwa — a formal ruling under Islamic law — demanding that Rushdie and others connected with the book be killed. 

Satanic Verses

Extreme Violence 

Extremist bombings, riots and killings followed: a Lebanese man trying to plant a bomb in London was killed when it exploded, and the Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses was stabbed to death at his office at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. Rushdie went into hiding, but remained prolific as a writer, publishing dozens of novels for adults and children as well as essay collections. 

Who is Joseph Anton?

Rushdie was knighted in 2007 and in 2012 he wrote an autobiographical book about his experiences. Its title Joseph Anton: A Memoir refers to the name the author used to conceal his identity while in hiding; Joseph Anton is a composite of two famous authors’ names: Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.

PEN America

In recent decades, things had appeared to have cooled off. In 1998, Iran said that it would no longer demand that the fatwa be carried out, although it did not revoke it, either. Rushdie moved to the US in 2000. He spent time as president of PEN America, a literary organisation dedicated to protecting free expression in the US and worldwide, and taught at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. 

A Vicious Attack

However, on 12 August 2022, as Rushdie was about to speak at the non-profit organisation Chautauqua Institution in New York, a twenty-four-year-old New Jersey man called Hadi Matar, the son of Lebanese immigrants, rushed on stage and stabbed the writer multiple times. The attack left Rushdie blind in one eye, affected the use of one of his hands and, according to the author, still gives him “frightening nightmares.”