British-American author Salman Rushdie appears to have been stabbed in the neck Friday by a man who charged the stage where Rushdie was set to deliver a lecture. Rushdie has faced death threats for his work, especially The Satanic Verses, which irrelevantly illustrated the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Iran's late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie in 1989, calling for him to be killed.
The Jerusalem Post uncovered a report in May that showed a current professor at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, defended the fatwa against Rushdie in 1989. Mahallati teaches Islamic studies at the college and has also drawn accusations from Amnesty International that he covered up the massacre of Iranian dissidents in 1988 while he was serving as Iran's ambassador to the UN.
According to a 1989 Reuters report, when asked about the fatwa against Rushdie, Mahallati said, "I think all Islamic countries agree with Iran. All Islamic nations and countries agree with Iran that any blasphemous statement against sacred Islamic figures should be condemned."
He added, "I think that if Western countries really believe and respect freedom of speech, therefore they should also respect our freedom of speech. We certainly use that right in order to express ourselves, our religious beliefs, in the case of any blasphemous statement against sacred Islamic figures."
Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, maintains the fatwa against Rushdie.
According to the Associated Press, a man began punching or stabbing Rushdie as he was being introduced for the lecture. The man was arrested. Rushdie was taken by helicopter to a hospital and his condition is unclear.
Rushdie is the former president of PEN America, which defends free expression. The current CEO of the organization, Suzanne Nossel, said in a statement, "We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil."
"Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades," said Nossel, "but has never flinched nor faltered."
Oberlin College investigated Mahallati over the allegation that he covered up the massacre, but ultimately the school concluded that it could not corroborate the allegations.
There have been multiple protests at Oberlin College calling for Mahallati's firing. The protesters cited their distaste for Oberlin College President Carmen Twillie Ambar's refusal to meet with the families of the victims of the massacre.
Oberlin has not yet commented on Mahallati's defense of the fatwa against Rushdie, which surfaced three months ago. Oberlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mahallati remains a professor at the college.
The Islamic studies professor has also been accused of anti-Semitism.
In a speech to the UN, he said, "The land of Palestine is the platform of the ascension of the Prophet Mohammad; its significance is that it contains the first Qibla direction — towards which Muslims prayed. Its occupation by Zionist usurpers is a transgression against all Muslims of the world and its liberation is therefore a great religious obligation and commitment."
Mahallati added that Israel's actions "derive from a savage and mad mentality prevalent in the Zionist hierarchy."
Oberlin determined in its investigation that it "could not identify a pattern of anti-Semitic behavior or ongoing calls for the destruction of Israel."