Salman Rushdie: why is The Satanic Verses controversial and why was he attacked?

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Salman Rushdie flown to hospital after being ‘stabbed in the neck’ in the United States.

The author, who sparked controversy with his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, was on stage at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York giving a lecture when he was attacked.

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Sir Salman suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck and was taken by helicopter to hospital where his condition remains unclear, State Police said.

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Photos from the Associated Press news agency showed him lying on his back, legs in the air, and a first responder crouched over him.

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Sir Salman’s book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1988 as considered blasphemous by many Muslims, and its publication prompted then-Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for his execution.

One man was arrested, police said.

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Here’s everything you need to know:

What did the police say?

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A statement from the New York State Police said: “At approximately 11 a.m. on August 12, 2022, a male suspect ran onto the stage and assaulted Rushdie and an interviewer.

“Rushdie suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck and was transported by helicopter to a nearby hospital. His condition is not yet known.

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“The interviewer suffered a minor head injury. A state trooper assigned to the event immediately took the suspect into custody. The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office assisted at the scene. More information will be released as it becomes available.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a news conference that a state police officer saved his life and that of the host, who she says was also assaulted.

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She added: “He’s alive, he’s been flown to safety. But here is a person who has spent decades speaking truth to those in power, someone who braved the threats that have dogged him throughout his adult life.”

Who is Salman Rushdie and why is he controversial?

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Born in Bombay, British India in 1946, he is an author whose work combines magical realism with historical fiction.

His second novel, Midnight Children, won the Booker Prize in 1981 – since then it has twice been named “Best Winner of All Time”, on the 25th and 40th anniversaries of the prize.

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However, he sparked controversy with his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, which was published in 1988.

The book has been accused by Muslims of blasphemy and mockery of their faith.

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It sparked protests and outrage after its release — it has been banned in Iran since 1988 and is also banned in India for hate speech.

The late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, in 1989 calling for Sir Salman’s death.

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Salman Rushdie is among an outstanding cast for the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Image: Herbert Neubauer/APA/AFP via Getty Images)

Why are the Satanic verses so controversial?

The book has been accused of blasphemy, particularly because parts of the novel refer to events in the Koran.

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In the Muslim faith, over a period of 22 years, the Prophet Muhammad was visited by the angel Gibreel and he recited God’s words to the Prophet.

That conversation reports that in the Satanic Verses a character, Gibreel Farishta, becomes his namesake Gibreel in a series of dreams and “encounters another central character in a manner that reflects the traditional account of Islam of the angel’s encounters with Muhammad.”

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Another controversial part of the novel is the fact that Rushdie chose a provocative name for Muhammad – Mahound, which was “an alternative name for Muhammad, sometimes used in medieval times by Christians who mistook him for a devil”.

In the book, Mahound “puts his own words in the mouth of the angel Gibreel and delivers to his followers edicts conveniently supporting his self-interested ends,” which outraged Muslims because it implies that Prophet Muhammad himself was the source of God and not of God is revealed truths.

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Many protests were held against the book, including in Bradford in 1989, where a public book burning took place.

What is a fatwa?

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In 1989, a year after the book’s publication, Iran’s then leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Sir Salman’s death.

It came after a violet riot protesting the book in Pakistan.

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According to Merriam Webster, a fatwa is “a legal opinion or decree handed down by an Islamic religious leader”.

After the fatwa was issued, Sir Salman lived in hiding for years.

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There have been attempts to have the fatwa overturned, including in 1998 as part of efforts to restore diplomatic relations between Britain and Iran.

However, in 2006, the Iranian state news agency reported that the fatwa would remain in effect permanently as only the person who issued it could revoke it and Ayatollah Khomeini had died.

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Why was Salman Rushdie attacked in New York?

Sir Salman was due to speak to Henry Reese of the City of Asylum organization, a residency program for exiled writers at risk of persecution, when he was attacked.

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They should discuss America’s role as a haven for exiled writers and other artists and as a home for freedom of creative expression.

His novel The Satanic Verses has remained controversial since its publication in 1988 to this day.

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