Writers and politicians condemn attack on Salman Rushdie

<span>Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters

Writers and politicians have condemned the attack on Salman Rushdie as the novelist remains on a ventilator in the US.

The 75-year-old author was stabbed as he was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York state on Friday.

Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, said the author could lose an eye, was currently unable to speak and had also suffered damage to his arm and liver.

US police have detained a suspect named as Hadi Matar, 24, from Fairview in New Jersey.

British politicians, including the prime minister, Boris Johnson, and leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak, championed free speech in their messages of support.

Rushdie’s writings, considered blasphemous by many Muslims, led to death threats from Iran in the 1980s when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his death.

Lady D’Souza, the crossbench peer who led the defence of Rushdie after the fatwa, said the incident highlighted the threats faced by writers across the world.

“It seems to me that there’s one important lesson here, which is no one anywhere should ever, ever, ever be threatened with death for writing a novel,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Yet we seem to be living in a world, despite Salman’s fight, where that could be well be a possibility.”

The novelist Lisa Appignanesi, the former president of English PEN and a campaigner for free expression, praised Rushdie’s “extraordinary resilience and his deep, deep courage” in the face of threats to his life.

“What has happened is just ghastly and appalling and I really, really hope he makes it through to give us more of his extraordinary intelligence,” she told Today.

The British-American citizen, who was born in India, was given police protection and went into hiding in 1988 after the fatwa over his novel The Satanic Verses. He was knighted in 2007 by the Queen – an event that sparked protests in Iran and Pakistan.

Related: Who is Salman Rushdie? Author whose book The Satanic Verses made him a target

Johnson tweeted that he was “appalled” that Rushdie had been attacked “while exercising a right we should never cease to defend”. “Right now my thoughts are with his loved ones. We are all hoping he is OK,” he added.

Sunak described the novelist as “a champion of free speech and artistic freedom”, adding that he was “in our thoughts”.

Meanwhile, the deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner, wrote: “The horrific attack on Salman Rushdie in New York is appalling beyond words. I wish him well at this terrible time.

“This violence is an attack on free speech and can never be the answer. His assailant must be brought swiftly to justice.”

Writers have also expressed their horror at the attack.

The journalist and Empireland author Sathnam Sanghera tweeted: “Passage from Midnight’s Children in my last ever exam. Poster of The Moor’s Last Sigh had place on my (pretentious) student bedroom wall. Quote from Satanic Verses opens Empireland.

“Lots of British Asian writers wouldn’t be writers without him. Pray he’s well.”

The comedian and author David Baddiel described the incident as “appalling”. “It’s also appalling that there are people who will think he brought it on himself or somehow deserved it,” he added.