‘Ludicrous’ to suggest Rushdie responsible for attack, says Britain

Salman Rushdie has lived with a bounty on his head since the publication of his 1988 novel "The Satanic Verses". PHOTO: NYTIMES

LONDON/TEHERAN (AFP, REUTERS) – It is “ludicrous” to suggest that novelist Salman Rushdie was responsible for the attack on him, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday (Aug 15), after Iran’s foreign ministry suggested the author was to blame.

“Clearly it is ludicrous to suggest that Salman Rushdie was in any way responsible for this abhorrent attack on him,” the spokesman told reporters.

“This was not just an attack on him, it was an attack on the right to free speech and expression and the UK government stands both by him and his family, but equally we stand in defence of free speech around the world.”

Earlier on Monday, Iran “categorically” denied any link with the attacker who stabbed Mr Rushdie.

Instead, Teheran blamed the writer himself for the incident.

“We categorically deny” any link with the attack and “no one has the right to accuse the Islamic Republic of Iran”, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani in Teheran’s first official reaction to last Friday’s stabbing.

“In this attack, we do not consider anyone other than Salman Rushdie and his supporters worthy of blame and even condemnation,” he said at his weekly press conference in Teheran.

“By insulting the sacred matters of Islam and crossing the red lines of more than 1½ billion Muslims and all followers of the divine religions, Salman Rushdie has exposed himself to the anger and rage of the people.”

Mr Rushdie, 75, was left on a ventilator with multiple stab wounds after he was attacked at a literary event last Friday in western New York state.

The suspected assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar from New Jersey, was wrestled to the ground by staff and other audience members before being taken into police custody.

He was later arraigned in court and pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges.

Writers and politicians around the world have condemned the attack.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said Iranian state media had “gloated” about the attack, adding that “this is despicable”.

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Mr Rushdie has lived under threat for decades since enraging clerical authorities in Iran through his writing.

His 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, is viewed by some Muslims as containing blasphemous passages.

The prize-winning writer has spent years under police protection after Iranian leaders called for Mr Rushdie’s killing over the novel.

Iran’s then-supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in 1989 issued a religious decree, or fatwa, ordering Muslims to kill Mr Rushdie and anyone involved in the book's publication for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of The Satanic Verses.

The Iranian government said in 1998 it would no longer back the fatwa. 

But in 2019, Twitter suspended Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's account over a tweet that said the fatwa against Mr Rushdie was "solid and "irrevocable".

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Hardline reactions

Mr Rushdie has lived relatively openly in recent years.

He was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York on the importance of the US as a haven for targeted artists when police say a 24-year-old man rushed to the stage and stabbed him.

An initial law enforcement review of the suspected attacker Hadi Matar’s social media accounts showed he was sympathetic to Shi’a extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), according to NBC New York.

The IRGC is a powerful faction that Washington accuses of carrying out a global extremist campaign.

Hardline Iranian state media outlets celebrated the attack with headlines including “Satan has been blinded” and some Iranians voiced support online for the stabbing.

Matar was the son of a man from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, according to Mr Ali Tehfe, the town’s mayor.

Matar’s parents emigrated to the US, where he was born and raised, the mayor said, adding he had no information on their political views.

The Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah holds significant sway in Yaroun, where posters of Khomeini and slain IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike in 2020, adorned walls at the weekend.

A Hezbollah official told Reuters on Saturday that the group had no additional information on the attack on Mr Rushdie.

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