Salman Rushdie said true courage was not shown by him but those who rushed to save his life.
Salman Rushdie was greeted with a standing ovation as he walked up to accept the Pen Centenary Courage award.
India-born British-American author Salman Rushdie made his first public appearance on Thursday since he was stabbed. The Booker-prize winner was was stabbed in the neck and torso in August 2022 while he was on stage at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Rushdie was hospitalised for for six weeks, lost vision in one eye and is not unable to use one hand fully.
Recounting the incident, he joked: “nice to be back – as opposed to not being back, which was also an option”. Rushdie was a surprise attendee at the Pen America gala in New York. He was greeted with a standing ovation as he walked up to accept the Pen Centenary Courage award.
He said true courage was not shown by him but those who rushed to save his life. “If it had not been for these people, I most certainly would not be standing here today. The courage, that day, was all theirs.” He added that he did not know their names, or see their faces, but owed his life to them. A 24-year-old Hadi Matar was arrested after the attack. He was charged with attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault and has pleaded not guilty.
Speaking earlier this year in his first interview since the attack, Rushdie said he was lucky to have survived. “What I really want to say is that my main overwhelming feeling is gratitude,” he said.
In his address, he added that the mission to protect free expression was never “more important” in a time of book bans and censorship. He added: “Terrorism must not terrorise us. Violence must not deter us. La lutte continue. La lutta continua. The struggle goes on.”
The gala awarded the 2023 Pen/Barbey Freedom to Write award to imprisoned Iranian writer and human rights defender Narges Mohammadi. Her husband Taghi Rahmani accepted the award. He said: “I cannot forget that my children have been tortured by the Iranian government and the prison authorities who have wilfully deprived them of even the sound of their mother’s voice. Our lives in the words of my daughter, Kiana, [are] like this, ‘When mom is there, dad isn’t. When dad is there, mom isn’t’.”