‘The courage was all theirs’: Sir Salman Rushdie thanks ‘heroes’ who saved him in first public appearance since attack

19 May 2023, 15:42 | Updated: 19 May 2023, 15:51

Sir Salman Rushdie has made his first public appearance since being attacked last year.
Sir Salman Rushdie has made his first public appearance since being attacked last year. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

The Satanic Verses author has made his first public appearance just nine months after he was attacked at a literary festival in New York.

Sir Salman Rushdie, 75, made an unexpected return to the public eye last night as he attended the annual gala of PEN America in what was his first appearance since being stabbed last year.

The Satanic Verses author was stabbed around 12 times in the face and neck at a literary festival in Western New York last August and needed surgery to treat a punctured eye and liver.

He was awarded the PEN Centenary Courage Award at the gala last night.

The 75-year-old received a standing ovation as he took to the stage and said: “It’s nice to be back – as opposed to not being back, which was also a possibility. I’m glad the dice rolled this way.”

He gave a short but powerful speech upon accepting the award, he said: “I accept this award, therefore, on behalf of all those who came to my rescue. I was the target that day, but they were the heroes.

“The courage, that day, was all theirs, and I thank them for saving my life.

“And I have one last thing to add. It’s this: Terror must not terrorise us. Violence must not deter us. La lutte continue. La lutta continua. The struggle goes on.”

He also referenced a fellow attendee, Henry Reese of the City of Asylum project in Pittsburgh, for tackling the assailant and thanked audience members who stepped in.

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Sir Salman wore a pair of glasses with one blacked out lens.
Sir Salman wore a pair of glasses with one blacked out lens. Picture: Alamy

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Sir Salman has faced the threat of attacks since the late 80s after Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned the Satanic Verses as blasphemous for passages referring to the Prophet Mohammed.

A decree was also issued by the Ayatollah for Sir Salman’s death, which sent the author into hiding.

But in the lead-up to his stabbing he had been living openly for years.

Sir Salman’s glasses had one lens darkened at the event to conceal his eye which was blinded in the attack last year.

PEN is a literary and free expression organisation, often combining politics and activism with countless celebrities in attendance.

Speaking in his first interview since the attack earlier this year, Sir Salman said: “What I really want to say is that my main overwhelming feeling is gratitude."

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