- 15 Nov 23
The Booker Prize winning author of Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie has made a rare public appearance on Wednesday night at the Václav Havel Center in New York.
The Indian-British author Salman Rushdie, who has had survived multiple assassination attempts, made a surprise public appearance last night at a literary event in New York to receive an award.
It’s one of a handful of times that Rushdie has spoken in person at an event since he was hospitalised last year after being attacked at the Chautauqua Institution in New York.
In the attack, Rushdie was stabbed repeatedly, including in the neck, the abdomen and the eye. Rushdie lost the sight of one eye as a result of the murder attempt.
The event took place in August of last year and Hadi Matar, the man accused of stabbing him, is set to stand trial on 8 January 2024. Rushdie is expecting to testify at the stabbing trial.
Yesterday, the author made a rare public appearance since the incident at the Chautauqua Institution last year.
His surprise attendance was not publicised until the evening over concerns for his security. The New York police Department was dispatched outside the venue.
“I apologise for being a mystery guest,” said Rushdie, “I do not feel at all mysterious. It just made my life a little bit simpler.”
He received a standing ovation from the crowd at the 'Living in Truth' ceremony where he was award the Lifetime 'Disturbing the Peace Award'.
Rushdie has written more than a dozen novels, including The Satanic Verses in 1988.
The Satanic Verses is by far Rushdie most controversial novel, a book detailing a fictional retelling of the life of the prophet Muhammed. The novel was banned in Iran as blasphemous, and a fatwa calling for his death was issued in 1989 by the country’s then supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, which forced the writer into hiding.
Thirty-three years after the fatwa was issued Rushdie, still faces security issue, receiving an annual death threat on February 14th from Iran which the author jokingly calls "my unfunny Valentine".
Rushdie survived an assassination attempt in 1989, after a bomb intended for Rushdie exploded prematurely and killed Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh, the attacker.
The Lifetime Disturbing the Peace Award was the first of its kind to be given away at the 'Living in Truth' event in the Václav Havel Center.
Rushdie accepted the award from Azar Nafisi, the author of Teaching Lolita in Tehran. A crowd of about 150 guests, consisting of journalists, diplomats, artists and more were in attendance.
Numerous writers and diplomats attended Tuesday’s ceremony, hosted by CBS journalist Lesley Stahl who was also honoured for her foreign policy coverage on national television.
Alaa Abdel-Fattah, the imprisoned Egyptian activist, was given the Disturbing the Peace Award to a Courageous Writer at Risk.
Abdel-Fattah is a blogger, software developer and a political activist who has been active in developing software in Arabic.
On 29 September, during the 2019 Egyptian protests, Abd El-Fattah was arrested by the National Security Agency of Egypt and taken to State Security Prosecution. He was subsequently convicted of "spreading fake news" and jailed for five years. In April 2022, he went on hunger strike, which ended on November 2022 as a result of medical intervention.
His aunt, Adhaf Soueif, accepted on his behalf and said he was aware of the prize.
Soueif herself is an acclaimed author and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999 for her novel The Map of Love.
Rushdie, 76, said that last month he had received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and now was getting a prize for Disturbing the Peace, he joked saying he wondered what side of “the fence” he was on.
He spent much of his speech praising Mr Havel, a close friend whom he remembered as being among the first government leaders to defend him after the novelist was driven into hiding by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1989 decree calling for his death over the alleged blasphemy of The Satanic Verses.
Sir Salman said Mr Havel was “kind of a hero of mine” who was “able to be an artist at the same time as being an activist.”
“He was inspirational to me as for many, many writers, and to receive an award in his name is a great honour,”.