Salman Rushdie reflects on near-fatal stabbing two years later in new book 'Knife'

Renowned author Salman Rushdie gave his first interview since his near-fatal 2022 stabbing on Sunday, reflecting on the death threats that have followed him for decades in a new book, “Knife.”

Rushdie, who became a targeted man after Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him for his depiction of the prophet Muhammad in “The Satanic Verses” in 1989, recalled the evening in August 2022 when the most recent attempt on his life nearly succeeded.

He was giving a presentation on writers at risk of violence for their work in Chautauqua, New York.

“In the corner of my right eye — the last thing my right eye would ever see — I saw the man in black running towards me down the right-hand side of the seating area,” he told Anderson Cooper in a “60 Minutes” interview. “Black clothes, black face mask. He was coming in hard and low. A squat missile.”

“I confess, I had sometimes imagined my assassin rising up in some public forum or other, and coming for me in just this way,” he continued. “So, my first thought when I saw this murderous shape rushing towards me was, ‘So it’s you. Here you are.’”

After nearly a decade of around-the-clock security protecting against Iran-backed assassins in the 1990s, Rushdie thought he was free from attempts on his life. 

“It felt like something coming out of the distant past. And trying to drag me back in time, if you like, back into that distant past in order to kill me,” Rushdie said. “And when he got to me. He basically hit me very hard here. And initially I thought I’d been punched.”

Rushdie was attacked 15 times over 27 seconds, his face, neck and chest stabbed and slashed. He lost sight in his right eye.

“I remember thinking that I was probably dying,” he said. “And it was interesting because it was quite matter-of-fact, it wasn’t like I was terrified of it or whatever. And yeah, there was nothing. No heavenly choirs. No pearly gates.” 

“I mean, I’m not a supernatural person, you know? I believe that death comes as the end. There was nothing that happened that made me change my mind about that,” he continued. “I have not had any revelation, except that there’s no revelation to be had.”

Rushdie barely survived the attack, being flown by helicopter to a hospital in Erie, Penn., and only being released over a month later.

His attacker was a 24-year-old who said he was inspired to attack because of “The Satanic Verses” depiction of the prophet Muhammad, claiming Rushdie had “attacked Islam.”

“Knife,” his reflections on the experience, is his 22nd book, and not one that he initially wanted to write. He said he was tired of being known and followed by his death threats.

“It was very difficult for me, after ‘The Satanic Verses’ was published, that the only thing anybody knew about me was this death threat,” he said. “But it became clear to me that I couldn’t write anything else.”

“I need to focus on, you know, to use the cliché, the elephant in the room, and the moment I thought that, kinda something changed in my head,” he continued. “And it then became a book I really very much wanted to write.”

Rushdie is now fully recovered from the attack 20 months later, less an eye. He still lives in upstate New York.

“I don’t feel I’m very different, but I do feel that it has left a shadow,” he said. “I think that shadow is just there. You know, and some days it’s dark and some days it’s not.”

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