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Salman Rushdie warns against U.S. censorship in rare public address 9 months after being stabbed onstage

Salman Rushdie recovering from stabbing
Salman Rushdie speaks with investigators while recovering from stabbing attack 04:27

Nine months after he was stabbed and seriously injured onstage, author Salman Rushdie made a public appearance at the British Book Awards on Monday evening.  

Rushdie, who appeared via video message, said the Western world is "in a moment, I think, at which freedom of expression, freedom to publish has not in my lifetime been under such threat in the countries of the West."

At the ceremony, Rushdie received the Freedom to Publish award. Organizers said that the honor, which was given for the first time in 2022, "acknowledges the determination of authors, publishers and booksellers who take a stand against intolerance, despite the ongoing threats they face."

In his speech, he warned against censorship in the United States, particularly in regards to book bans in libraries and schools. According to the American Library Association, a record number of book bans were attempted in 2022. 

"Now I am sitting here in the U.S., I have to look at the extraordinary attack on libraries, and books for children in schools," he said. "The attack on the idea of libraries themselves. It is quite remarkably alarming, and we need to be very aware of it, and to fight against it very hard."

Rushdie also criticized publishers who change decades-old books for modern sensibilities, such as large-scale cuts and rewrites to the works of children's author Roald Dahl and James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

He said publishers should allow books "to come to us from their time and be of their time."

"And if that's difficult to take, don't read it, read another book," he said.

Rushdie, 75, was blinded in one eye and suffered nerve damage to his hand when he was attacked at a literary festival in New York state in August. His alleged assailant, Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and attempted murder.

In a February 2023 interview, Rushdie told "The New Yorker" that he dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder after the attack. 

 "There have been nightmares—not exactly the incident, but just frightening," Rushdie said at the time. "Those seem to be diminishing. I'm fine. I'm able to get up and walk around. When I say I'm fine, I mean, there's bits of my body that need constant checkups. It was a colossal attack."

The attack on Salman Rushdie, and on free speech 04:27

Rushdie spent years in hiding with police protection after Iran's Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, in 1989 calling for his death over the alleged blasphemy of the novel "The Satanic Verses." Iran has "categorically" denied any link with the attack. 

In February, Rushdie published his most recent novel "Victory City." He told "The New Yorker" that he struggled, both mentally and physically, to write the novel. The acts of typing and writing were challenging, he said, because of "the lack of feeling in the fingertips" of some fingers. 

"There is such a thing as PTSD, you know," he said. "I've found it very, very difficult to write. I sit down to write, and nothing happens. I write, but it's a combination of blankness and junk, stuff that I write and that I delete the next day. I'm not out of that forest yet, really."

Francesco Clemente, Angelus Novus Opening
Salman Rushdie attends Francesco Clemente, Angelus Novus Opening on March 2, 2023 at Vito Schnabel Gallery in New York, New York. Patrick McMullan/PMC via Getty Images
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