Salman Rushdie Recalls ‘Premonition’ Dream Before Brutal Knife Attack

Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images
Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

Two nights before he was attacked onstage at a literary festival in western New York, Salman Rushdie had a dream he was being stabbed.

“I kind of had a premonition,” he told Anderson Cooper. “I mean, I had a dream of being attacked in an amphitheater. But it was a kind of Roman Empire dream, you know?”

Rushdie’s appearance in a 60 Minutes segment on Sunday night marked his first televised interview since the Aug. 12, 2022, attack at the Chautauqua Institution. Hit by his assailant’s knife 10 times, Rushdie was stabbed in the face, hand, chest, stomach, thigh, and neck. He would remain hospitalized for six weeks, and ultimately lose all vision in his right eye and feeling in some fingertips.

He hadn’t wanted to go to the event, where he was scheduled to speak about the importance of providing safe haven to writers under threat, he told Cooper.

“Because of the dream?” the correspondent asked.

“Because of the dream,” Rushdie replied. “And then I thought, ‘Don’t be silly. It’s a dream.’”

The 76-year-old had dreamed he was in the Colosseum, he said on 60 Minutes, trying frantically to get away from a man with a spear. “And I woke up and was quite shaken by it. And I had to go to Chautauqua, you know? And I said to my wife, Eliza, I said, ‘You know, I—I don’t want to go,” Rushdie remembered.

Rushdie doesn’t invoke his attacker’s name in conversation—or in his 22nd book, Knife, a memoir set to hit shelves on Tuesday.

“He and I had 27 seconds together, you know? That’s it,” he told Cooper. “I don’t need to give him any more of my time.”

But Rushdie does recount those 27 seconds in Knife, from which he read an extract on 60 Minutes.

“Then, in the corner of my right eye—the last thing my right eye would ever see—I saw the man in black,” Rushdie read, “running towards me down the right-hand side of the seating area. Black clothes, black face mask. He was coming in hard and low. A squat missile.”

The missile in question, Hadi Matar, is awaiting trial, having pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree assault and second-degree attempted murder. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison for the attempted murder charge alone, a prosecutor said in court last year.

Rushdie will likely testify at the trial, which is expected to take approximately two weeks.

The attack against the Indian-born British-American author, who was raised Muslim but today identifies as an atheist, took place more than three decades after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran responded with fury to the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses, issuing a fatwa for Rushdie’s murder.

Rushdie said on 60 Minutes that he’d had no idea his book, which depicts the Prophet Muhammad, would prove as controversial as it did—sparking international protests, burnings, and even the unsolved murder of its Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi. Asked by Cooper if this seemed naive in retrospect, Rushdie said, “Probably.

“It’s easy looking back to think—but nothing like this had ever happened to anybody,” he said. “And, of course, almost all the people who attacked the book did so without reading it. I was often told that I had intended to insult, offend people. And my view is: If I need to insult you, I can do it really quickly. I don’t need to spend five years of my life trying to write a 600-page book to insult you.”

In 1998, Iranian authorities reversed their stance on the fatwa, saying they would no longer actively seek Rushdie’s head. He was able to emerge from the seclusion that had defined the previous decade of his life, spent in hiding or under protection.

But the fatwa’s afterlife has proved controversial, with some religious authorities insisting that such an edict could only be withdrawn by the person who issued it. (Khomeini had died four months after calling for Rushdie’s execution.) Some hardline Iranian groups continued to offer a bounty for Rushdie’s life. In 2005, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the fatwa remained active, according to The New York Times.

Speaking to the New York Post from jail five days after the attack, Matar wouldn’t say whether he was following Khomeini’s fatwa. But he referred to the ayatollah as “a great person” while criticizing Rushdie.

“I don’t like the person. I don’t think he’s a very good person,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t like him. I don’t like him very much. He’s someone who attacked Islam, he attacked their beliefs, the belief systems.”

Matar told the Post he’d only read a few pages of The Satanic Verses.

When Cooper asked Rushdie if he cared what Matar’s motive had been, the novelist demurred.

“I mean, it’s interesting to me because it’s a mystery,” he mused. “If I had written a character who knew so little about his proposed victim, and yet was willing to commit the crime of murder, my publishers might well say to me that that’s under-motivated.”

“‘You need to develop that character better—’” Cooper began.

“Yeah, not enough of a reason, you know? Not convincing,” Rushdie said. “But yet that’s what he did.”

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