The moderator who was about to interview Salman Rushdie when he was attacked and stabbed on stage by a crazed knife wielder has revealed the painful injuries he got while trying to defend the novelist.
Henry Reese, 73, was barely able to open his blackened right eye as he spoke late Tuesday to the BBC about last Friday’s attack at the Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles south of Buffalo.
As well as deep bruising ringing the eye, he had several stitches above it from a knife wound suffered while holding down the legs of the man who stormed onstage and repeatedly stabbed Rushdie.
“I’m doing well, everything is proceeding — I’m doing quite well,” he told the British broadcaster from his home in Pittsburgh.
“Our concern is for Salman,” he said of the author of “The Satanic Verses” who was initially put on a ventilator and may lose one of his own eyes.
“And I mean that both certainly for himself, but also for what he means in the world. And he’s important to the world,” Reese said of the writer.
Reese was chosen to moderate the interview with Rushdie — who for years lived in hiding after Iran put a bounty on his head — because of his own work with City of Asylum, a group that supports persecuted writers.
The pair had yet to settle and start the chat when the attacker stormed the stage, stabbing Rushdie three times in the neck, four in the stomach, and also wounding his chest, right thigh and right eye.
“Our mission is to protect writers who are in sanctuary. And to see Salman Rushdie assaulted for his life is unimaginably … it’s hard to describe what it is to see that happen in front of you,” Reese told the BBC.
“There couldn’t be anything more vivid in its materialization of our values,” he said.
The soft-spoken moderator told The Atlantic that his knife wound came as he held down the legs of Rushdie’s attacker, whom authorities identified as 24-year-old New Jersey man Hadi Matar.
“This is a very bold attack against the core values of freedom and ways of resolving differences short of violence, with art, literature, journalism,” Reese told the mag.
“It’s given a very visceral, momentary connection to me personally, and certainly to Salman, it’s probably never gone away in the back of his mind — but now it’s caught permanently, in a physical way,” he said.
He hopes to one day be able to finally hold the planned talk, he told the BBC.
“That would be my ideal, to see that happen and not to be in any way impeded from doing what we set out to do. To both show that these values will be defended and that they can be defended,” he said.
Rushdie had been the subject of death threats since the late 1980s, after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who has since died, issued a fatwa calling for his death because of his book “The Satanic Verses,” which some regard as blasphemy.
The suspected attacker, Matar, previously made social media posts in support of Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He’d reportedly also been in contact with the Revolutionary Guard on social media.
He has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault.
An Iranian official on Monday denied Tehran was involved in Rushdie’s stabbing, but sought to justify the attack.
“Regarding the attack against Salman Rushdie in America, we don’t consider anyone deserving reproach, blame or even condemnation, except for (Rushdie) himself and his supporters,” said Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani.
Rushdie is now on the road to recovery and again “articulate” — and his “The Satanic Verses” has stormed to the top of multiple Amazon bestseller lists.