Knife: Salman Rushdie's Memoir Of Surviving Attack

(MENAFN- Asia Times) Knife is Salman Rushdie's account of how he narrowly survived an attempt on his life in August 2022, in which he lost his right eye and partial use of his left hand. The attack ironically came when Rushdie was delivering a lecture on“the creation in America of safe spaces for writers from elsewhere,” at Chautauqua in upstate New York.

A man named Hadi Matar has been charged with second-degree attempted murder . He is an American-born resident of New Jersey in his early 20s, whose parents emigrated from Lebanon. Prosecutors allege the assault was a belated response to a fatwa – a legal ruling under Sharia law – issued in 1989 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The Iranian leader called for Rushdie's assassination after the publication of the author's novel The Satanic Verses , which allegedly contained a blasphemous representation of the prophet Muhammad. Matar has pleaded not guilty to the charge, and his trial is still pending.

Knife is very good at recalling Rushdie's grim memories of the attack. (His assailant appears in this book merely under the sobriquet of“the A.”) It also articulates with typically dry, self-deprecating humor the dismal prognoses of his various doctors. These are balanced against his own incorrigible sense of“optimism” and ardent will to live, along with the staunch love and support of his new wife, the writer and artist Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Knife: Salman Rushdie

This is a book where you can feel the author wincing with pain.“Let me offer this piece of advice to you, gentle reader,” he says:“if you can avoid having your eyelid sewn shut ... avoid it. It really, really hurts.”

But at the same time, it is a story of courage and resilience, with Rushdie cheered by the unequivocal support he receives from political leaders in the United States and France, as well as writers around the world. He cites as a parallel to his own experience the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, in which 12 people were murdered in the Paris offices of a satirical magazine that supposedly had defamed the Islamic Prophet.

While the author's personal recollections of this traumatic event are powerful, the declared aim of Knife is to“try to understand” the wider context of this event. Here, for a number of reasons, Rushdie is not on such secure ground.

Knife: Salman Rushdie

One of his great strengths as a novelist is the way he presents“worlds in collision ... quarrelling realities fighting for the same segment of space-time.” This phrase comes from his 2012 memoir Joseph Anton . (He used that pseudonym he during his years of protection by British security services in the immediate aftermath of the fatwa.)

Rushdie, who studied history at Cambridge University, described himself in Joseph Anton as“a historian by training.” He said“the point” of his fiction is to show how lives are“shaped by great forces,” while still retaining“the ability to change the direction of those forces” through positive choices.

The second part of Knife is focused around Rushdie's unwavering commitment to the principles of free speech in his work for PEN and other literary organizations. Indeed, a speech he gave at PEN America in 2022 is reprinted in the book verbatim.

“Art challenges orthodoxy,” declares Rushdie. He associates himself with a legacy of Enlightenment thinkers going back to Thomas Paine , whose work influenced both American and French revolutions. For these intellectuals, principles of secular reason and personal liberty should always supersede blind conformity to social or religious authority.

Old-fashioned liberal principles

In Knife, though, Rushdie the protagonist confronts a world where such liberal principles now appear old-fashioned. He claims that“the groupthink of radical Islam” has been shaped by“the groupthink-manufacturing giants YouTube, Facebook, Twitter.”


Asia Times

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