‘His defiant sense of humour remains intact’: Salman Rushdie’s son says author spoke ‘a few words’

Salman Rushdie (left) stands with eldest son Zafar (right) at an event in London in June 2007


Salman Rushdie has been able to speak and retains his ‘feisty and defiant’ sense of humour since he was stabbed on stage in New York, his son has revealed.

Zafar Rushdie, 42, tweeted a heartfelt update on his father’s condition, which remains ‘critical’ despite doctors being able to take him off a ventilator.

The Booker Prize-winning author, 75, was knifed up to 15 times before a literary talk at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York on Friday.

The attack left his liver damaged and severed nerves in an arm and an eye. 

Suspected knifeman Hadi Matar, 24, has been charged with attempted murder and assault. He has pleaded not guilty.

London-based PR agent Zafar wrote: ‘My father remains in critical condition in hospital. We are extremely relieved that yesterday he was taken off the ventilator and additional oxygen and he was able to say a few words.

‘Though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact. 

Salman Rushdie (left) stands with eldest son Zafar (right) at an event in London in June 2007

Salman Rushdie (left) stands with eldest son Zafar (right) at an event in London in June 2007

Rushdie told a German magazine earlier this month that the fatwa against him no longer scared him. Here bystanders and staff tend to Mr Rushdie on stage after the attack

Rushdie told a German magazine earlier this month that the fatwa against him no longer scared him. Here bystanders and staff tend to Mr Rushdie on stage after the attack

Rushdie told a German magazine earlier this month that the fatwa against him no longer scared him. Here bystanders and staff tend to Mr Rushdie on stage after the attack

Newly released mugshots show suspected knifeman Hadi Matar as he was detained in NYC

Newly released mugshots show suspected knifeman Hadi Matar as he was detained in NYC

Newly released mugshots show suspected knifeman Hadi Matar as he was detained in NYC

Rushdie is being held at UPMC Hamot Surgery Center in Erie, Pennsylvania (pictured yesterday). Son Zafar said the family has come together at their father's bedside

Rushdie is being held at UPMC Hamot Surgery Center in Erie, Pennsylvania (pictured yesterday). Son Zafar said the family has come together at their father's bedside

Rushdie is being held at UPMC Hamot Surgery Center in Erie, Pennsylvania (pictured yesterday). Son Zafar said the family has come together at their father’s bedside

Zafar wrote this afternoon: 'His usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact'

Zafar wrote this afternoon: 'His usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact'

Zafar wrote this afternoon: ‘His usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact’

‘We are so grateful to all the audience members who bravely leapt to his defence and administered first aid along with the police and doctors who have cared for him and for the outpouring of love and support from around the world.

‘We ask for continued patience and privacy as the family come together at his bedside.’

Zafar’s moving statement came moments before new mugshots taken at Chautauqua County Jail in Mayville, New York were published.

It was also revealed that the celebrated author is on the ‘road to recovery’ and is expected to survive the attack.

Zafar posted a defiant message after the attack, referencing his father's habit of speaking out

Zafar posted a defiant message after the attack, referencing his father's habit of speaking out

Zafar posted a defiant message after the attack, referencing his father’s habit of speaking out

Rushdie (pictured in Los Angeles in 2013) has now been taken off a ventilator and can speak. There had been fears he would be left unable to talk after the attack last week

Rushdie (pictured in Los Angeles in 2013) has now been taken off a ventilator and can speak. There had been fears he would be left unable to talk after the attack last week

Rushdie (pictured in Los Angeles in 2013) has now been taken off a ventilator and can speak. There had been fears he would be left unable to talk after the attack last week

The acclaimed author was rushed to hospital after being stabbed '10-15 times' while on stage. Here he is pictured being taken to a air ambulance

The acclaimed author was rushed to hospital after being stabbed '10-15 times' while on stage. Here he is pictured being taken to a air ambulance

The acclaimed author was rushed to hospital after being stabbed ’10-15 times’ while on stage. Here he is pictured being taken to a air ambulance

Agent Andrew Wylie stated this afternoon: ‘It will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction.’

And Rushdie is now able to ‘talk and joke’, a friend who visited him confirmed this morning. 

A judge ordered that Matar be held without bail after District Attorney Jason Schmidt said the suspect had purposely put himself in position to harm the author.

‘This was a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack on Mr Rushdie,’ Mr Schmidt said.

Meanwhile Rushdie’s comments to a German magazine made two weeks ago but published in the wake of his stabbing reveal the author’s relentless optimism in the wake of ‘scary times’.

Mr Rushdie said death threats ‘have become more normal’ – but that the fatwa no longer scared him.

He explained: ‘A fatwa is a serious thing. Luckily we didn’t have the internet back then. The Iranians had send the fatwa to the mosques by fax. 

‘That’s all a long time ago. Nowadays my life is very normal again.’

Iran issued a call on Muslims worldwide to kill the India-born author in 1989 after his fourth novel, the Satanic Verses, was considered blasphemous.

This afternoon his agent Andrew Wylie said: ‘He’s off the ventilator, so the road to recovery has begun. 

‘It will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction.’

He added that Rushdie had the nerves severed in one of his arms, would likely lose an eye and had sustained damage to his liver. 

Rushdie's fourth book, which he is pictured holding in February 1989, prompted a fatwa edict for his murder by the state of Iran. It has been ignored by frontline politicians since 1998

Rushdie's fourth book, which he is pictured holding in February 1989, prompted a fatwa edict for his murder by the state of Iran. It has been ignored by frontline politicians since 1998

Rushdie’s fourth book, which he is pictured holding in February 1989, prompted a fatwa edict for his murder by the state of Iran. It has been ignored by frontline politicians since 1998

Matar has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault in New York.

Rushdie has has two children from his four marriages – his other son is called Milan – but has been linked with many other women including Indian model Riya Sen. 

The acclaimed writer also told Stern that despite the ‘scary times’ we live in – and the fact the internet has made the world ‘infinitely more dangerous’ – he no longer fears the fatwa.

Rushdie said: ‘I always tell people: don’t be afraid. 

‘But the bad thing is that death threats have become more normal. Not only politicians get them, even American teachers who take certain books off the syllabus.

‘I think a lot of people today live with similar threats to the ones I had back then. And the fax machines they used against me is like a bicycle rather than a Ferrari compared with the internet.’

Mr Rushdie came out of a decade-long hiding in 1998 after incoming Iranian president Mohammad Khatamisaid he no longer supported the fatwa.

But some Muslims continued to back Ayatollah Khamenei’s extreme edict – and the bounty on Rushdie’s head was raised to $3million (£2.7million).

Rushdie, who became a US citizen in 2016 and lives in New York City, said he was most worried about threats to democracy in the United States.

‘Trump’s victory over truth is most important there. His people believe that they are lied to by the others, not by him,’ he said.

Hadi Matar, 24, arrives for a hearing at Chautauqua County Courthouse, NY yesterday. He pleaded not guilty to attempted murder

Hadi Matar, 24, arrives for a hearing at Chautauqua County Courthouse, NY yesterday. He pleaded not guilty to attempted murder

Hadi Matar, 24, arrives for a hearing at Chautauqua County Courthouse, NY yesterday. He pleaded not guilty to attempted murder

Rushdie added that he is optimistic about the future, stating: ‘I believe something very good is happening in the young generation. It is much more inclined to activism. We are seeing a generation grow of age that we urgently need right now, a combative one. 

‘We need people who can organise themselves, and people who are prepared to fight. Fighters. For a society worth living in. 

‘As an author I also notice that young authors are becoming role models again – instead of the way it used to be, namely just the dead ones.’

Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie spent years in hiding after being issued ‘spiritual’ death threat by Iran

Sir Salman Rushdie is a Booker Prize-winning author and novelist.

His writing is often based around the themes of connections and migrations between Western and Eastern civilizations.

He won the Booker Prize in 1981 for his second novel, Midnight’s Children. His writing has spawned 30 book-length studies, and over 700 articles on his writing.

Rushdie’s writings have broadly been acclaimed to the genres of magical realism and historical fiction.

He has been living in the US since 2000, and he was named a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University in 2015.

He has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, including for Midnight’s Children, in 1983 for Shame, in 1988 for The Satanic Versus, in 1995 for The Moor’s Last Sign, and in 2019 for Quichotte.

Salman Rushdie, 75, is an Indian-born author who has been acclaimed for his writing in the genres of magical realism and historical fiction

Salman Rushdie, 75, is an Indian-born author who has been acclaimed for his writing in the genres of magical realism and historical fiction

Salman Rushdie, 75, is an Indian-born author who has been acclaimed for his writing in the genres of magical realism and historical fiction

And asked whether he was nostalgic, Rushdie said, ‘Not necessarily. I love history, but when it concerns my own life, I prefer to look ahead.’

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Public defender Nathaniel Barone said the authorities had taken too long to get Matar in front of a judge, while leaving him ‘hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks’.

‘He has that constitutional right of presumed innocence,’ Mr Barone added.

Sir Salman was stabbed at least once in the neck and once in the abdomen, according to police, before he was taken to hospital.

Sir Salman’s publisher Penguin Random House said they were ‘deeply shocked and appalled’ by the incident.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was ‘appalled that Sir Salman Rushdie has been stabbed while exercising a right we should never cease to defend’.

He added: ‘Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is okay.’

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘Salman Rushdie has long embodied the struggle for liberty and freedom against those who seek to destroy them.

‘This cowardly attack on him yesterday is an attack on those values. The whole Labour Party is praying for his full recovery.’

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said: ‘Today, the country and the world witnessed a reprehensible attack against the writer Salman Rushdie. This act of violence is appalling.

‘All of us in the Biden-Harris administration are praying for his speedy recovery. We are thankful to good citizens and first responders for helping Mr Rushdie so quickly after the attack and to law enforcement for its swift and effective work, which is ongoing.’

The president of the Royal Society of Literature, Bernardine Evaristo, said she was pleased to hear he was off a ventilator, adding: ‘People are always going to disagree, but we have a right to express an opinion and artistic licence should be a human right.

‘So – Yes to argument; no to violence.’

Sir Salman began his writing career in the early 1970s with two unsuccessful books before Midnight’s Children, about the birth of India, which won the Booker Prize in 1981.

The author lived in hiding for many years in London under a British government protection programme after the fatwa.

In 1998, the Iranian government withdrew its support for the death sentence and Sir Salman gradually returned to public life, even appearing as himself in the 2001 film Bridget Jones’s Diary.

The Index on Censorship, an organisation promoting free expression, said money was raised to boost the reward for Sir Salman’s killing as recently as 2016, underscoring that the fatwa still stands.

He was knighted in 2008 and earlier this year was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours.



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