The terminal illness of Salman Rushdie

” What can I do ? It’s like I have an incurable disease that I carry around with me and that plagues me constantly. A kind of herpes! Salman Rushdie told me with a shrug.

Posted at 6:30 p.m

It was ten years ago in a Toronto hotel room. We were alone, alone Without further security measures, despite a fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini, which he authored in 1989 satanic verses one sentenced to death – accompanied by a bounty estimated at the time to be US$3.3 million.

Salman Rushdie lived as he saw fit, free and brave. One did not notice the scars of this constant threat, which weighed on his person for more than two decades. Although by his own estimation he had escaped about twenty assassination attempts, I met a phlegmatic gentleman, affable and charming, with a lively appearance and a fine sense of humour. A great survivor.

On Friday morning happened what many have feared for 33 years. Salman Rushdie, 75, was attacked and stabbed by 24-year-old Hadi Matar while on stage outside a literary conference. Injured mainly in the neck and stomach, bleeding profusely, he was transported by helicopter to the hospital, where he was to be operated on urgently in the afternoon. At the beginning of the evening we had no information about his health.

Rushdie was in Chautauqua, a small town in upstate New York, to discuss the United States’ status as a haven for exiled writers and artists at risk of persecution in front of an audience of around 4,000. Sad irony.

Salman Rushdie was 41 when he published his fourth novel about uprooting and immigration in England in September 1988. his title, satanic versesalludes to a legend according to which verses from the Koran Mohammed were inspired by the devil.

In India, the British writer’s home country, it was quickly banned. On February 14, 1989, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini, the “supreme leader” of the Iranian revolution, issued a fatwa (religious decree) that considered satirical passages in the book blasphemy, sentenced Rushdie to death and forced him into hiding.

For nearly a decade, Salman Rushdie has lived under police protection in dozens of secret houses across the UK, his head exposed with a bounty on his head, he wears wigs to remain incognito and fears for his safety and that of his loved ones. In 1989 alone he changed his residence more than 50 times…

“I wasn’t used to seeing four gunmen in my kitchen, it was almost claustrophobic,” he wrote in his autobiography, whose title Joseph Anton: Memoirsrefers to the pseudonym he lived under in the 1990s, borrowed from his two favorite authors, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.

“I decided to write an autobiography because my life has become interesting,” he told me in September 2012, a week before the book was published. I thought there was a story to tell. But autobiography is not a genre that interests me. I never believed that I would submit to her. I didn’t think anyone would care. I finally did. It was worth it”.

This 600+ page introspection, which he found liberating, looks at his childhood in Bombay – he was born two months before India’s independence – and the benefits and difficulties of his pariah status in relation to his love life (he’s been married four times, including to supermodel and presenter Padma Lakshmi), and of course that fatwa that made him famous.

He, like many others, learned from a BBC journalist on the morning of Valentine’s Day 1989 the meaning of this Islamic legal term which he discovered and which henceforth would stick in his skin. “How do you feel about being sentenced to death? she asked him straight out.

When I met him at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Salman Rushdie had been openly living in Manhattan for a decade. He was at TIFF on the sidelines of the gala evening dedicated to his first feature film as a screenwriter, the adaptation of his book midnight children, directed by Canadian filmmaker Deepa Metha. His second novel, inspired by his childhood, won him the prestigious Booker Prize in 1981 and launched his career.

Despite conflicting information, the fatwa against Rushdie was never lifted. In 1998, under pressure from Washington, the Iranian government announced that it would no longer support it and would not enforce it. On the other hand is the decree, which an Iranian religious foundation says would be supported New York Timesis still in force.

We didn’t know more about the motivations of Salman Rushdie’s attacker on Friday. This is undoubtedly an attack not only on a human being and a writer, but also on art and freedom of expression, which cannot be tolerated.

“A book is the product of a pact with the devil that reverses the Faustian contract,” writes Salman Rushdie in satanic verses. The Dright Faust sacrificed eternity for two dozen years of power; the writer accepts the end of his life and (only if he is lucky) may not win eternity, but at least posterity. Either way, the devil wins. »

I hope with all my heart that this time the author wins. A writer always survives, even from a terminal illness.

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