Knife: As Much A Weapon As An Idea

After losing an eye in this violent incident, Salman Rushdie got a chance to re-understand the two-eyed society and he had the self-awareness to see and show the 'Knife' as an idea more than a weapon.

Adam Berry
Rushdie with his newly released book Photo: Adam Berry

35 years ago, Iran's religious and political leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Indian-born British author Salman Rushdie in February 1989, ordering Muslims to kill him after being outraged by Rushdie's popular novel 'Satanic Verses'. And under the same fatwa, a 24-year-old man fatally attacked Rushdie with a knife during a public lecture in New York in August 2022.

The offensive comments raised on 'Satanic Verses' have their own history, but the unique thing is that it all happened a decade before the young man was born, and who had apparently read only two pages of the novel that led him to commit the crime. In this attack, Rushdie sustained 10-15 stab wounds on the shoulder, chest and face, and lost one of his eyes. Rushdie has compiled his grief and thoughts in a recently published book 'Knife - Meditations After an Attempted Murder'

Before discussing Rushdie's book, I think it is important to understand the difference between 'believing' and 'knowing'. Why did that young man 'believe' without 'knowing' that Rushdie had made derogatory comments against a particular religion in the book? But if you think a little deeper, this method was started by 'dharma' millenia ago, making followers 'believe' without 'knowing'. Let rituals justify the rest. It simply asks to 'accept' without 'knowing'. That young man who attacked Rushdie only carried out years of hatred 'accepted' and 'stored' by the society he claimed to represent. The hero of Dostoevsky's classic novel 'Crime and Punishment' too believed that some crimes are justified. It is another matter that after the murder, the protagonist remains a victim of delusion, paranoia, and hatred. A thought or feeling that one does not 'experience' oneself is not less than a crime.

In the hall where Salman Rushdie was attacked, the audience wondered why Rushdie didn't defend when he saw the attacker coming towards him with a knife. Rushdie says that violence has intense power to destroy reality in which rational thought finds no place. In the environment of fear and anxiety, right thinking disappears somewhere.

The same thing happened in that attack. By the time Rushdie could realise, the 'knife' had followed his religious diktat. It is amazing that the (knife) that personified hatred does not become a subject of hatred because if this knife were in the hands of a doctor, it would be a 'life saver' 'and not a 'killer'. Thoughts are converted into actions by the sequence of mind-word-action, and when the mind is filled with hatred, one can only imagine what the action could be. That young man could not extricate himself from the cycle of mind-word-action. 'Believing' so dominated 'knowing' that the knife did what it was told.

After losing an eye in this violent incident, Rushdie got a chance to re-understand the two-eyed society and he had the self-awareness to see and show the 'Knife' as an idea more than a weapon. In many ways Rushdie has written the autobiography of the knife – the knife is as much a 'weapon' as an 'idea'. The knife's 'closeness to the body' makes it a weapon of ideas.  A knife itself is not a piece of metal if there is no 'edge' in it. After this incident, Rushdie realised that he himself was using literature as a knife to cut across dogmas in society.

A knife cuts cakes and vegetables, opens bottles and bodies. 9/11 used the airplane like a knife to cut the twin towers. Anything can become a knife if the edge is sharp, but a knife is felt when it cuts what we often don't want to see cut. Language is also a knife that can cut ideologies without actually cutting anything. The knife is also a painful experience that brings life closer to new experiences. Knife has the power to take life, but it also has the amazing power to give life, as we have discussed that a knife in the hand of a doctor or a scythe knife in the hand of a farmer promote and sustain life. 

One thing is certain that the knife has given Salman Rushdie a new identity in which the knife plays a central role, and he will now have to live with this new identity. 'Knife' is a challenge that will help Rushdie to stay relevant without repeating themselves! It was only a matter of a genius writer like Rushdie that he made positive use of this unfortunate murderous attack on him and took a deep look at the current trends in the present society using KNIFE as a psychological and philosophical tool!

(Dr Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer and researcher.)