Rushdie ‘has long defended freedom of artistic expression’ – Margaret Atwood

·3 min read
Rushdie ‘has long defended freedom of artistic expression’ – Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has said Sir Salman Rushdie “never missed an opportunity to speak out on behalf of the principles he had been embodying all his writing life” adding that “freedom of expression was foremost among these”.

The Canadian writer and two-time Booker Prize-winner, 82, is among figures from the literary world who have condemned the attack on Sir Salman, 75, in which he was stabbed at a lecture in New York on Friday.

Sir Salman, author of The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children and other titles, suffered severe, life-changing injuries but his “usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact”, his family said in an update on Sunday, adding that they were “extremely relieved” he had been taken off a ventilator on Saturday.

Writing in The Guardian, Atwood, who penned the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, said of Sir Salman: “He has ticked every box except the Nobel prize: he has been knighted; he is on everyone’s list of significant British writers; he has collected an impressive bouquet of prizes and honours, but, most importantly, he has touched and inspired a great many people around the globe.

“A huge number of writers and readers have long owed him a major debt.

“Suddenly, they owe him another one. He has long defended freedom of artistic expression against all-comers; now, even should he recover from his injuries, he is a martyr to it.

“In any future monument to murdered, tortured, imprisoned and persecuted writers, Rushdie will feature large.”

The 89th Academy Awards – Vanity Fair Party – Los Angeles
Salman Rushdie arriving at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, USA (PA)

Atwood wrote that Sir Salman had “never missed an opportunity to speak out on behalf of the principles he’d been embodying all his writing life. Freedom of expression was foremost among these.”

Sir Salman, whose novel The Satanic Verses led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s, was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution, 65 miles from Buffalo in New York state, when he was attacked.

The man accused of stabbing him pleaded not guilty on Saturday to charges of attempted murder and assault, in what a prosecutor called a “pre-planned” crime.

A lawyer for Hadi Matar, 24, entered the plea on his behalf during a formal hearing at a court in western New York.

Governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, visited the Chautauqua Institution on Sunday, saying in a speech: “I want it out there that a man with a knife cannot silence a man with a pen.”

She added: “Mr Rushdie spent more than a decade of his life in hiding.

“And finally he said, no more, I’m coming out. I’m coming out of the shadows.

“I will not be bowed by fear or a threat. And to those of us who go about our daily lives, if that’s not an inspiration, I don’t know what is.”

Sir Salman’s ex-wife, author and TV presenter Padma Lakshmi, was among those expressing their relief at the update on the Quichotte author’s health.

Lakshmi, who was married to Sir Salman between 2004 and 2007, tweeted: “Relieved @SalmanRushdie is pulling through after Friday’s nightmare. Worried and wordless, can finally exhale. Now hoping for swift healing.”

US President Joe Biden said he was “shocked and saddened” by the attack on the writer.