The Telegraph 2024-04-15 10:00:40


Israel tells UN it reserves the right to retaliate against Iran

How Iran’s attack on Israel unfolded – minute by minute

Israel has told the UN it has “every right to retaliate” against Iran after Saturday’s barrage of more than 350 drones and missiles.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, told an emergency meeting of the security council on Sunday: “We are surrounded by Iran’s terror proxies. This attack crossed every red line and Israel reserves every right to retaliate.”

Comparing Iran to Nazi Germany, he added: “The Islamic regime of today is no different from the Third Reich and [Iranian Supreme Leader] Khamenei is no different from Adolf Hitler.”

Mr Erdan’s comments come as Israel weighs its options in responding to Iran’s attack on Saturday, which was largely intercepted by Israel, the US, the UK and Jordan.

Joe Biden and other Western leaders have urged Benjamin Netanyahu to show restraint, but a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said the country’s war cabinet had already approved “offensive and defensive” operations.

The Iranian ambassador to the UN said Tehran had an “inherent right to respond proportionately” if the US was to join any Israeli military operations against Iran.

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Salman Rushdie: I may return to UK if Trump wins

In August 2022, two days before he was due to appear at an event in Chautauqua, a small town in upstate New York, Sir Salman Rushdie had a dream. 

The venue where he was due to speak is called the Chautauqua Amphitheater, so if you want to rationalise it – and Rushdie is a rational man – it is not unusual that he should have dreamed he was in a Roman colosseum. ‘And once you’ve got a colosseum you put a gladiator in it.’

In the dream he was rolling around on the floor of the arena, with a man holding a spear stabbing downwards as Rushdie tried frantically to avoid the thrusts. 

The dream was so vivid, he tells me, that he was thrashing around in his bed so violently his wife, the poet and novelist Rachel Eliza Griffiths, had to wake him up and reassure him.

‘I was quite shaken by it,’ he says, ‘and I said to Eliza, I don’t want to go. And then you wake up a bit more, and you think, it’s just a dream, and you’re not going to allow your life to be ruled by something that happened in a dream.

‘And so I thought, I’ll go. It’s a gig.’ 

There was a sizeable fee involved and his home air-conditioning system needed to be renewed; the money would be handy. ‘Fifteen hundred people had bought tickets. I can’t just not show up because I had a bad dream.’

He does not believe in premonitions or prophecy. He laughs: ‘I’ve had some trouble with prophets in my life. I don’t think I’m applying for that job.’ And so he went.

And then it was 12 August.

Few writers have been garlanded with as many awards as Rushdie; more than a dozen since the moment he won the Booker Prize for his novel Midnight’s Children in 1981. In 2007 he was knighted for services to literature. He has written 14 novels, and two memoirs. Now comes the book he could never have imagined he would have to write: Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder.

It begins with a sentence of piercing simplicity. ‘At a quarter to eleven on August 12, 2022, on a sunny Friday morning in upstate New York, I was attacked and almost killed by a young man with a knife just after I came out on stage at the amphitheatre in Chautauqua to talk about the importance of keeping writers safe from harm.’

In a frenzied attack lasting 27 seconds, Rushdie was stabbed numerous times by his assailant, a 24-year-old man named Hadi Matar, ‘just stabbing wildly, stabbing and slashing, the knife flailing at me as if it had a life of its own’, stabbing his neck, face, body, hand, thigh and, ‘the cruellest blow’, he writes, his right eye. The blade went in all the way to the optic nerve which meant there would be no possibility of saving the vision. ‘It was gone.’

It was 33 and a half years since, following the publication of his book The Satanic Verses, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s assassination, forcing him into hiding for several years. More than two decades since he had begun to feel confident that the threat to his life had passed and he could move freely in the world, albeit sometimes imagining his assassin, ‘rising up’ as he writes, ‘in some public forum or other coming for me.’

And now here he was, ‘this murderous shape rushing towards me.’

Eighteen months after the attack, Salman Rushdie sits in the conference room of his agent’s office in New York, a glass of water on the table in front of him. He is smartly dressed in a blue checked sports jacket, blue shirt and dark trousers. His manner is cordial, matter-of-fact. He is feeling, he says, ‘pretty much recovered’, although the ordeal has left its mark in his drawn expression, the black lens on the right side of his glasses, disguising his sightless eye, lending him a strangely raffish air, and the trace of a three-inch scar on his right cheek, the flap of skin where the knife stabbed his throat.

He is lucky to be alive, he says. He will say this several times during our conversation.

Watch: Sir Salman reads an extract from Knife

He has numerous other scars on his body – ‘here, here, and here’ – he points to the one on his mouth, hidden by his moustache, and another behind his ear. ‘I have no feeling there now.’

He is still unsure of how many times he was stabbed – 13 or 14, he thinks, all in the space of 27 seconds, before his assailant was bundled to the ground by Rushdie’s friend Henry Reese, who was interviewing him on stage, and who was wounded himself, and by members of the audience rushing to his aid. 

Twenty-seven seconds: ‘It’s a kind of curiously powerful number,’ he reflects, ‘and I only know 27 seconds because that’s what was reported in the papers. You can do a lot of damage in 27 seconds if you’ve got a knife.’

When his assailant was arrested, he says, he told the police he’d left his backpack in the auditorium. ‘The police officer asked, is there a bomb in it? And he said, no there are more knives in it.’ Rushdie shakes his head. ‘I thought, what does that even mean? You would imagine that it’s hard enough to bring one weapon into an auditorium, but to bring a bagful. What was he planning to do? Pass them out?’ He allows himself a wry smile. ‘There are things about this that have that quality of being funny and not funny at the same time.’

Rushdie was sure he was dying. There was, he says, ‘an enormous amount of blood – really, quite a stunning amount of blood. I’m lying on the floor and there was this kind of lake of blood around me – coming out of me. 

‘It’s impossible to look at that and not think you’re about to die. But it was very matter-of-fact. It wasn’t fear of it; just, this is what’s happening, how things are. I’m about to die. Mainly the feeling was of loneliness, the sadness of dying far away from the people you love. That’s what I felt.’ 

He remembers being lifted on to a trolley, and the trolley being wheeled out of the building to a waiting helicopter. ‘There were all these people who were just voices to me. Blood was pumping out of the cut in my throat, and there was one gentleman… who was a retired fireman, and he had a big hand with a big thumb on it and he put his thumb over the wound, and he just kept it there, running beside the trolley, all the way to the helicopter. And then he couldn’t get in the helicopter – because of the weight restrictions they couldn’t take an extra person – and I became unaware of things at that point.’

He was flown to Hamot hospital, across the state line in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he was in surgery for eight hours, with multiple surgeons working on different parts of his body simultaneously – his neck, his eye, his liver, his abdomen, the slash wounds to his face. At the end of it he was on a ventilator, ‘like having an armadillo’s tail pushed down your throat’, he writes. ‘But I wasn’t dead. I was alive.’

Hamot was the only trauma hospital for miles around, and just 20 minutes away by helicopter. One of the enormous pieces of good fortune, he says, was that it was a sunny day. ‘If it had been bad weather the helicopter wouldn’t have been able to fly, and I would be dead.’

It is the ‘physical stuff’, Rushdie says, that has taken the longest time to recover from.

He was in hospital for seven weeks following the attack, trapped in a bed that would emit a screaming alarm if he tried to get out unaided, ‘my whole world shrunk down to the size of this screaming bed’, and for several months after that was having ‘some or other piece of my anatomy’ checked on a daily basis by one specialist or another.

Fluid was drained from his lungs. A catheter was inserted, the mere mention of which now causes him to wince. By the end of it all he had lost 55 pounds.

For months afterwards, he says, it would get to seven o’clock in the evening and he would feel ‘wiped out. Even now I’m not sure I’m 100 per cent. I’m still a bit weaker than I used to be.’

He has had extensive physiotherapy. His left hand is repaired ‘to an extent’, but he has no feeling in the middle two fingers, which makes the hand harder to use, and makes it harder to use a keyboard. ‘I never was a touch-typist anyway, so it doesn’t make it very much worse.’ 

His mouth, he says, is ‘weird. One of the neck wounds damaged a nerve, which means I have partial paralysis of my lower lip, so my mouth slides over one way when I’m talking – and that’s not coming back.’

The loss of sight in his eye has been the hardest thing to deal with, ‘emotionally more than physically.’

In his first days in hospital a nurse would come in every hour to moisten it with saline solution. It was distended, bulging out so far that it was impossible for the eyelid to close, so the eye was unable to lubricate itself. When the bandages were removed the eye ‘was a monstrosity’. 

For some days the doctors deliberated on whether it could be saved, before finally deciding to lower the eyelid and stitch it shut. He told them, ‘I’m not very good about pain.’ They assured him they would use a strong anaesthetic. On the day of the operation they approached with a needle. He asked, ‘What about the anaesthetic?’ He was told it was in the needle. ‘All I can say about what followed,’ he writes, ‘is that, if that was true, I can’t begin to imagine how painful the procedure would have been if it wasn’t.’ 

It would be seven weeks before the stitches could be removed.

The eye remains ‘an absence with an immensely powerful presence’. Blindness, he says, has always been his greatest fear. For several years he has suffered macular degeneration in his left, remaining, eye. The treatment has entailed an injection into the white of the eye every month or so, and his specialist has told him he has been responding exceptionally well to the medication. But the possibility of losing his vision completely continues to haunt him. 

His limited sight means he has to swivel his head constantly to avoid colliding with people. Pouring water into a glass, he sometimes misses the glass. To accept this is how it’s going to be for the rest of his life is ‘depressing’, but ‘what can’t be cured must be endured’. And it could have been worse.

The knife went as deep as the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. A fraction deeper and he would have suffered brain damage. ‘So the fact that my brain, for what it’s worth, is what it was, means I can still be me. And I just feel incredibly fortunate that that’s how it worked out.’ 

He remembers a doctor in the hospital telling him that first he was very unlucky, and then he was very lucky. ‘I said, what’s the lucky part? He said, the lucky part is the man who attacked you had no idea how to kill a man with a knife.’ 

Of course, the wounds were not only physical. The nightmares he suffered for months after the attack have, he says, ‘just about stopped. They’re not 100 per cent stopped, but they’re very occasional. They’re never an exact replay of that moment, but they’re nightmares of being in danger, or of being attacked, in all sorts of different situations. So I think I’m in reasonable psychological shape.’

Therapy, he says, has helped a lot in assuaging the trauma of the attack. His way of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, he writes, ‘was to claim, most of the time, that I was okay. I told my therapist, “I don’t know what good it does to complain.” He laughed. “Don’t you know you’re here to complain?”’

There were days when it was hard to get out of bed, especially when he was alone, and when he would be overwhelmed by negative thinking: ‘Is this it, am I finished, has the attack just taken too much out of me, and maybe it’s killing me, slowly, even though it looks like I’ve made such a great recovery; maybe the knife is still inside me, travelling towards my heart.’ But gradually he was able to shake off these thoughts.

Now he sees a therapist once a week. ‘He’s really excellent,’ Rushdie says, ‘he’s very intelligent, and tells you what you’re actually saying.’ He smiles. ‘So, [Knife is] the first book I’ve written with the help of a therapist.’

He was resistant when his agent, Andrew Wylie, pressed him to write the book. ‘I said, I really don’t want to write about it. And he said, no, you’ll write about it. I said, no I won’t. He said, yes, you will. And it turns out he was right.

‘For the first few months I couldn’t have considered writing anything. I couldn’t write a letter. But there was a point at which I realised there’s no way I can write about anything else… And actually, writing the book has been important in dealing with it.’

Thirteen months after the attack he returned for the first time to Chautauqua. ‘It was just something I needed to show myself – that I could be upright again in the place where I had fallen down – and actually it was enormously powerful.’

He went with his wife, who had not been with him on the day he was attacked. ‘For her it was shocking in a different way… For her to see it and me to say, this is where I was when it happened, that was hard for her.

‘But it had a kind of magical effect on my body. I felt as if somebody had just lifted a weight off my shoulders. I felt physically lighter. It had a very powerful effect.’

Here’s the curious thing. As his assailant rushed towards him on the stage, Rushdie rose from his seat, confused. He didn’t run, he didn’t fight. ‘I just stood there,’ he writes in Knife, ‘like a piñata and let him smash me.’

His first thought was, ‘So it’s you. Here you are’  – echoing Henry James’s words following a stroke: ‘So it has come at last, the distinguished thing.’ 

‘Death was coming at me, too,’ he writes, ‘but it didn’t strike me as distinguished. It struck me as anachronistic.’

This was his second thought. ‘Why now? Really?’

‘I’d had more than two decades of leading a perfectly ordinary writer’s life,’ he tells me, ‘literary events, sitting at home writing, going round town… I had told myself there wasn’t really much to be bothered about any more. I guess I was wrong.’

And now, the shadow, having seemingly been lifted, falls over him again?

‘Not totally, but on the other hand I can’t ignore it. There are things that I do now that are more cautious than things I used to do. I don’t really want to discuss security details in the national press, but I’ve had to think about that… It makes a big difference to my willingness to do public events. I’m not going to say never, but the issue of security would be very important before I would say yes.’

There was minimal security at the Chautauqua event. ‘But I don’t blame them at all. The thing about the Chautauqua people is they’re really sweet people. It’s this innocent world. Leafy and quiet and full of liberal people, retirees; and I think they just thought, we’re in this nice little place, and nothing ever happens here. It didn’t occur to them.’

In 2023 he came to Britain for the first time since the attack, for the publication of Griffiths’ first novel. When he came in previous years, it was agreed with the police that there was no need for protection unless he was doing a public event, but in light of the attack he emailed Scotland Yard asking what the position would be now. He was assured that a protection team would meet him and Griffiths off the plane, and be with them, 24 hours a day, until they got back on a plane to leave. ‘I must say, that was very nice of them.’

He remembers that when the fatwa was first imposed there were feelings of ambivalence towards him – both politically and among the public. 

‘I’d been quite a critic of the Thatcher government, so they didn’t love me, but they did the right thing and I was always grateful for that. But lots of people at the time were unsympathetic. And that’s something that’s different this time around.’ Another small smile. ‘I think it’s because I actually got hurt.’

I have met Rushdie before, in 1993. He was four years into his exile and had begun to make the first tentative steps back into some sort of ordinary life, attending publishers’ parties, private dinners, a friend’s wedding reception, always accompanied by ‘the chaps’, as he called his Special Branch protection officers.

If this suggested the threat to his life was waning, a week earlier the Iranian government had confirmed the death sentence still stood; the price on his head was $3 million. Precautions were still precautions. 

In order to meet him, after being checked out in advance, I was told to wait outside a pub in north London, where two of the ‘chaps’ picked me up in an unmarked car, drove me to a featureless building and led me up the stairs – one murmuring into a walkie-talkie, ‘We’re on our way up’ – to a featureless first-floor room where Rushdie sat waiting.

He was at his Islington home on the day he first learned about the fatwa. The first thing he did was to shutter the windows in his living room and bolt the front door. Later that morning, he left to do a television interview, and then attended a memorial service for his friend Bruce Chatwin. It was his last day of normal life. 

Over the previous four years, he told me, he had been moved some 50 times; the longest time he had spent in one place was six months before being moved after his neighbours became suspicious. I thought then, how grim to have to live like this, with no inkling of when it might end, if it ever would.

In the years that he was under police protection, his movements severely limited, he had watched the global events signifying freedom unfold around him – the protests in Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela walking free from captivity – and read of the repeated calls for his death. Bookshops were firebombed. The Japanese translator of The Satanic Verses, Hitoshi Igarashi, was murdered by fanatics; so too was a mullah in Belgium who had dared to express support for Rushdie’s right to freedom of speech. At a Muslim youth conference in Bradford, a 16-year-old girl called for him to be stoned to death.

To his knowledge, there were at least six assassination plots against him foiled by the British intelligence services. ‘The danger was real,’ he writes in Knife. ‘The widespread hostility was almost worse.’

Polls showed that a large proportion of the British public believed he should apologise for the ‘offensive’ book. While many fellow writers came forward to support him, others, including John le Carré, attacked him.

His attempts to argue the paramountcy of freedom of speech over terror, ‘to hold the line’, as he writes, and to point out that he was ‘the victim, not the perpetrator, of a great wrong’, were received as arrogance. Norman Tebbit called him ‘an unwelcome, impertinent, whining guest… an outstanding villain’.

But gradually the storm appeared to pass. In 1998, the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, considered to be relatively liberal, said that Iran no longer supported the killing of Rushdie – although mullahs would subsequently rule that the fatwa still stood.

At Rushdie’s request, the police protection was dropped. Airlines that had previously refused to fly him now welcomed him as a passenger.

In 2000 he moved to New York, where, he says, he could enjoy more freedom, attending art openings and theatre and film first nights. There had been times when people would come up to him and express nervousness that he was there. ‘I made a decision to try and behave as normally as possible. And then suddenly, I turned into a party animal.’ He laughs. That, at least, was the tabloid characterisation. ‘I don’t even like parties. I like small groups of people where you can hear each other talk; six friends around a dinner table – that stuff. But what I was trying to do was to show people that they didn’t need to be scared of my presence. And the only way to show them was by being there. And not be afraid.’

In 2017, he appeared on Larry David’s TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm as himself. One of the unexpected benefits of being under threat of death, he told David, is that it makes you more attractive to women. ‘It’s not exactly you, it’s the fatwa wrapped around you, like sexy pixie dust.’ 

‘Fatwa sex,’ he said, ‘is the best sex there is.’ 

The line about fatwa sex was improvised on the spot, he says. ‘I thought, if we’ve reached a point where we can laugh about it, well that’s a kind of victory.’

When I met Rushdie in 1993 he told me that if the fatwa was lifted – he quietly corrected himself, when the fatwa was lifted – he believed the threat to his life would be over. The danger, he said, had always come from hired killers, not from ‘the mullahs of Bradford’.

He could not have conceived that it would come 29 years later from a lone fanatic, who had not even been born when the fatwa was issued, and whose hatred had been incubating in the basement of his family home in New Jersey.

Shortly after her son’s arrest, Hadi Matar’s mother gave an interview in which she described how her son had been a quiet boy, no trouble at all, until in 2018 he went to Lebanon to visit his father, from whom she had been divorced since 2004. He returned one month later, completely changed, apparently radicalised, castigating his mother for not having given him a proper religious education, and retreated into the basement of their home, ignoring his mother and sisters, cooking his own meals, and barely venturing out except to take boxing lessons. 

Rushdie does not dignify Matar in Knife, or in our conversation, with a name, calling him only ‘the A’. ‘My Assailant,’ he writes in Knife, ‘my would-be Assassin, the Asinine man who made Assumptions about me, and with whom I had a near lethal Assignation.’ He has also found himself thinking of Matar, ‘perhaps forgivably’, as an Ass. ‘What I call him in the privacy of my home is my business.’

Early in his recovery, he writes, he wanted to meet Matar, to sit in a room with him and say, ‘Tell me about it.’ ‘I wanted him to look me in my (one remaining) eye and tell me the truth.’ Griffiths was strongly opposed to the plan, and Rushdie abandoned it.

Pondering now on Matar’s motives, he tells me it does not seem as if he was part of ‘any larger project’. Soon after his arrest, Matar gave an interview to the New York Post. ‘By his own account he knew almost nothing about me,’ Rushdie says. ‘He said he’d read two pages of something I’d written – there’s such garbage on the internet I don’t even know if it was two pages of me – and he’d seen a couple of videos of me on YouTube. And that made him decide, as he put it, that I was disingenuous.’ He pauses. ‘A pretty odd word. I have no idea what he meant by that.’

So what was the reason? 

Rushdie’s tone is dismissive. ‘It’ll be some Islamic thing. The ayatollah said so and I’m following the book. So it will be banal.’

The trial of Matar was supposed to begin earlier this year, but has now been put back, Rushdie believes provisionally to September. Matar has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault. Rushdie has no qualms about facing him in the courtroom. ‘I’m OK with that. He’s got to face me.’

He says he feels no anger or hatred towards Matar. ‘It’s more contempt than anything else. I just think, you’re an idiot.

‘One of the things to do with my character is I try to look forwards, not backwards. Once it became clear to me that I was probably going to make a pretty substantial recovery, I thought OK, next business please. We don’t have to sit here thinking about this terrible day in August for the rest of my life. I’ve got to get on with it. So my attention isn’t on him. My attention is elsewhere. You’re going to spend most of your life in jail and I’m not.’

In Knife, Rushdie writes that ‘the most obsessing’ thing about the attack is that it has turned him once again into somebody he had tried very hard not to be. For more than 30 years he had refused to be defined by the fatwa. Now, no matter what he has written, or may yet write, ‘I’ll always be the guy who got knifed. 

‘Living was my victory but the meaning the knife had given my life was my defeat.’ He reaches for his water. ‘I always felt that the biggest damage done to me by the fatwa was that it took the attention away from my work,’ he says.

‘But over all these years that faded gradually. The last several novels I’ve written, people didn’t write about them in the context of the fatwa. They were just novels coming out…

‘Martin Amis had this point that with the fatwa I had vanished into the front pages of the newspapers. I felt I’d managed to get back into the book pages, and I was very pleased about that. And then this other event dragged me back into that other reality. And it’s disappointing. But the only way of getting over this is to keep writing books. It kind of worked before. But now I’ve got to keep doing it again – but with less time to do it.’ 

His discovery in writing Knife, he says, was that it was not a story about the attack – that can be told in a few pages – but about two opposing forces. ‘One is fanaticism, bigotry, violence and hatred; and then there’s this force of love and friendship and art and freedom, all colliding… And the focal point of that collision is this knife entering my body.

‘That’s the way I saw it… And in the end, I didn’t die, and that world of love and friendship is what surrounds me now. And that’s a kind of victory.’

The outpouring of sympathy and affection not only from friends but people he didn’t know was ‘overwhelming’. But there is one particular love that takes centre stage in his life, and the book – the one he shares with his wife Eliza. 

‘It’s a book about three people; me and him, and her. He represents one kind of force in the book, and she represents its antidote. 

‘And she just behaved amazingly; she just took over. At a point where I was so weak I couldn’t do anything, she did everything that needed to be done, and would never let me see her grief. She concealed that from me, until much later.’

Rushdie has been married five times. His first marriage, to the arts administrator Clarissa Luard, the mother of his son Zafar, who is now 43, ended in 1987. His second, to the author Marianne Wiggins, ended in 1993. He was divorced from his third wife, the writer Elizabeth West, mother of his son Milan, now 25, in 2004. Shortly afterwards, to the excitement of the tabloid press, Rushdie ‘the party animal’ married Padma Lakshmi, the Indian-born model and actor. That marriage ended in 2007. 

Then in 2017 he met Eliza at a literary event in New York. It was a warm evening and he suggested they step on to the outside terrace, separated from the room by full-length sliding doors, to talk. She led the way. Not really looking where he was going, Rushdie walked into the glass, smashing his glasses, blood streaming down his face. She helped him home in a taxi.

‘It really was like a Love Actually moment,’ he says with a smile. ‘I said to her, you literally knocked me out.’

At the age of 69, he says, he thought the prospect of marrying again was behind him. ‘But my mind changed. We hit it off instantly, and very deeply. And not just because of attraction or whatever, but because our minds were in tune with one another.’ 

In Knife he writes, in uncharacteristically rhapsodic prose, of how his marriage has brought him a happiness he had never known before. ‘What right did anyone have to claim true happiness in our almost terminally unhappy world, and yet the heart knew what it knew and insisted.’

In 2016, Rushdie became an American citizen. In the same year, he wrote a novel, The Golden House. Set in New York, it begins with the election of Barack Obama, and ends eight years later, at the end of Obama’s term, with his putative successor facing the challenge of a man who calls himself ‘the Joker’ – ‘a green-skinned, red-slashed-mouth giggler’. By the time The Golden House was published, Donald Trump had become president.

Rushdie had cast his first vote as an American citizen for the Democrats and with Hillary Clinton leading in the polls, posted an exultant tweet. ‘Done. You’re welcome, #MadamPresident! #imwithher.’ 

‘What is strange about writing that book,’ he now says, ‘is that all the time I was writing it, my non-writing self was pretty convinced that Hillary would beat Trump, while the book was pretty clear that wasn’t going to happen. So the book was right, and the author got it wrong.’

And what is the author thinking now, with a presidential election seven months away? ‘I’m going to make the same mistake again. I think he might lose.’

And if he wins? ‘Unbearable. Unthinkable. Because he’ll be much worse this time. He’ll be unleashed. He’s a liar and a bully, and cares about nothing except himself.’

If Trump does return to the White House, Rushdie says, America would be ‘unlivable – it’s seriously what I think’. And he would consider leaving the country. ‘[My children] want me to come back to London. I’ve always been torn by having almost all my close family live in London, and to be living here.’ 

So would he return? ‘I might do. I’m not going to say more than that.’

And what would stop him? 

‘Brexit. Because I think the damage done to England, not just economically but culturally, is so awful that’s mad too.’

So, for you, a choice of two evils?

‘Yes. But one evil has my family in it.’

He ponders this. Experience has taught him that he is no prophet – and he has no intention of being one.

Has coming so close to dying, I ask him, made him less fearful of it?

‘I’d prefer not to. There’s an interview that I read many years ago with Woody Allen, when he’s asked what he thinks about the fact that he would always live on in his work, in his movies. And he says, no, I would prefer to live on in my apartment. And I have that view.’ He pauses.

‘One of the things that happens as a consequence of coming this near to death is that you have to really look at yourself and your life and what you want from it.’

He quotes the novelist Milan Kundera, that you have one take at life. ‘I thought, what happened to me is that I got given a second chance, and then it became a big question for me – if that happens to you, how do you use it?’

He quotes a poem, Gravy, by another writer, Raymond Carver. ‘He was told by doctors he had no time to live, and then he lived for another 10 years and did some of his best work. And his poem Gravy is [about] how every day felt like a blessing. I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone / expected. Pure gravy. And don’t forget it.

‘And that’s how I feel,’ Rushdie says. ‘I wasn’t supposed to survive this. The odds against it were very, very high. And even if I did survive it the odds of being irreparably damaged were also very high. And instead of that, here I am, talking to you more or less like myself.’ He shakes his head, as if at the wonder of it all. ‘So I feel that every day is a blessing.’


Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder is published by Jonathan Cape at £20. To order your copy for £16.99, call 0808 196 6794 or call Telegraph Books. Salman Rushdie will be in conversation with Erica Wagner via livestream at the Southbank Centre on April 21. Tickets: southbankcentre.co.uk

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Families to fight end-of-life gagging orders in Supreme Court

Two families in end-of-life cases are set to battle in the Supreme Court against gagging orders which they say prevent them from holding doctors to account.

The parents of Zainab Abbasi and Isaiah Haastrup were banned from naming the medics treating their children after they became the centre of life support treatment disputes in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

Last year, both families won an appeal court battle which lifted the restrictions, allowing them to tell the story of how their children were treated before their life support was withdrawn and they passed away.

But that decision was put on hold as on Monday the two NHS Hospital trusts involved are taking the case to the Supreme Court in an attempt to preserve the anonymity of their staff.

Whilst reporting restrictions normally end when a child dies, the orders made in both cases and a number of other end-of-life battles remain in place forever in order to protect the NHS staff.

‘We were rendered powerless’

Zainab, who was born with a “rare and profoundly disabling” inherited neurodegenerative condition, died aged six at Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospital in September 2019 after doctors asked a judge to allow them to withdraw life-sustaining treatment against her parents’ wishes.

Her parents Rashid and Aliya Abbasi, who are both doctors, have said that there was a “toxic environment” surrounding her medical care which even led to her father’s arrest at her bedside in intensive care.

They said: “Our family has suffered so much due to the actions of the hospital. As doctors ourselves we were aware of the medical gaslighting and the appalling mistreatment our daughter was subjected to but we were rendered powerless to take effective action by the injunctions the hospital obtained which served only to protect a toxic culture which puts doctors’ interests before those of their patients.

“The transparency which the Court of Appeal has endorsed will ensure proper accountability within the medical profession and help restore ethical standards and public trust in the NHS.”

They allege that they have been gagged from revealing the “inappropriate attitude” of medics, the “lies” told by some clinicians giving evidence and details of how a senior physician refused to meet with consultants employed by the family.

‘Justice for our son’

Isaiah Haastrup, who suffered severe brain injuries after being starved of oxygen during birth, died when he aged just 12 months in March 2018 after a judge gave King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust permission to just provide palliative care.

His father Lanre said: “We were very encouraged by the Court of Appeal ruling and had hoped that we would finally be able to receive justice for Isaiah, and to be able to tell his story.

“Through this case, we have always wanted to shine the light of truth on what happened to Isaiah to seek justice for him and ensure that in future other families will not have to suffer what we went through as his parents.”

Mr Haastrup says that the original gagging order prevents him from revealing details of negligence during his son’s birth, of the “financial motivation for taking the end of life route” and the circumstance of his last day alive.

According to the Court of Appeal the “essential case” of both NHS trusts “is that if the parents of Zainab or Isaiah name any of the relevant staff, that might precipitate a groundswell of online harassment from interested third parties which could spill over into physical confrontation or even danger”.

But the judges found that there were no ongoing issues at either hospital related to the cases, and concluded that the risk to their privacy was “low”.

‘An incredibly difficult time’

The court ruled in March last year that the risk to privacy was outweighed by the parents’ rights to freedom of speech in being able to tell their story.

Monday’s Supreme Court case, in which the families are supported by Christian Concern and the Free Speech Union, could have widespread implications for reporting on cases in the family courts.

A spokesman for Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: ‘We understand this has been an incredibly difficult time for the family and we extend our condolences to them.

“Our priority is always to act in the best interests of our patients, and the entire clinical team involved in Zainab’s care did their best to support her and her family.

“It’s important to emphasise that there have been no findings of fault against any member of staff involved. As an employer, we have a duty to protect the wellbeing and safety of our clinical teams who work tirelessly to support their patients.’

King’s College Hospital Trust could not be reached for comment. The Trust has previously settled a medical negligence claim and apologised to the family for events surrounding Isaiah’s birth, saying that “a number of improvements have been made in our maternity service” since then.

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Watch: Salman Rushdie describes the moment he faced death

In a reading from his memoir recorded exclusively for The Telegraph, Sir Salman Rushdie recounts how he willed himself to carry on living as he watched a pool of blood “spreading out from my body”.

Sir Salman’s account of the stabbing as he prepared to deliver a lecture in New York state in August 2022, and his recovery, is called Knife: Meditations After An Attempted Murder, and is published on Tuesday.

Sitting in the book-lined office of his agent in New York, Sir Salman is able to hold the book with his injured left hand, which was badly damaged when he was stabbed more than a dozen times by a suspected Islamist fanatic.

The effects of a stab wound to his mouth, which suffered permanent nerve damage on the right side of his lower lip, can be seen as his mouth slopes to the left when he speaks.

He describes how he thought “I’m dying”, and that: “It didn’t feel dramatic or particularly awful, it just felt probable. It felt matter of fact.”

He felt a “profound sense of loneliness” at the thought that he was going to die far away from his loved ones, but he pulled through because: “A part of me, some battling part deep within simply had no plan to die.”

Sir Salman still manages to find humour in his situation, however, recalling that when he heard someone saying they needed to cut off his clothes to see where his wounds were, he thought: “Oh, my nice Ralph Lauren suit.”

Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder is published by Jonathan Cape at £20. To order your copy for £16.99, call 0808 196 6794 or call Telegraph Books. Salman Rushdie will be in conversation with Erica Wagner via livestream at the Southbank Centre on April 21. Tickets: southbankcentre.co.uk 

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Rwanda scheme ‘could cost UK nearly £5bn in first five years’ for 30,000 migrants

Rwanda is ready to take more than 30,000 asylum seekers in the first five years of the deportation scheme at a potential cost to the UK of nearly £5 billion, leaked documents show.

The Home Office documents say that although the scheme will start in a “tightly controlled” way with as few as 500 migrants deported in the first year, the agreement is designed to “incentivise” Rwanda to take “higher volumes”.

“Initial negotiations” between the two countries suggested “upwards of 30,000” migrants over the course of the scheme set to last five years, according to the documents.

This would total some £4.5 billion as it will cost the UK up to £150,000 per deported asylum seeker, according to Home Office figures supplied to the National Audit Office (NAO).

This is on top of an initial £370 million for the five-year Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) announced by Boris Johnson almost exactly two years ago.

The disclosure comes as the two top civil servants in the Home Office, Sir Matthew Rycroft and Simon Ridley, will on Monday be questioned by MPs on the Home Affairs Committee on the value for money of the scheme and NAO analysis.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill, which paves the way for the first flights, will also return to the Commons on Monday when MPs are expected to overturn seven amendments backed by the Lords in a series of Government defeats. Although peers may force a third round of ping-pong, it is expected to be passed by the end of this week.

Meanwhile, it emerged on Sunday night that the Government is in talks to send migrants from Britain to other countries.

Costa Rica, Armenia, Ivory Coast and Botswana are the focus of ministers’ “third-country-asylum processing deal”, which would replicate the Rwanda deportation scheme, The Times reported.

UK will pay £150,874 per migrant

Announcing the Rwanda scheme in April 2022, Mr Johnson pledged tens of thousands of migrants would be deported to Rwanda while the central African state has consistently maintained the scheme is “uncapped”.

However, there has never been an official total figure of migrants for the five-year Migration and Economic Development Partnership (MEDP).

The Home Office document – an annexe to a report for ministers on deportation plans dating from last year – states: “The MEDP is uncapped. In initial negotiations with GoR [Government of Rwanda], we talked in terms of upwards of 30,000 relocations over the five-year agreement. The structure of the funding agreements also incentivises GoR to take higher volumes.”

On Sunday night, sources said 30,000 remained a valid target figure although Labour has pledged to scrap the Rwanda scheme if it wins the next election, even if the scheme proves successful.

Rishi Sunak has signed up to pay £370m over five years to Rwanda even if no migrant is deported, according to the NAO. It revealed the UK will also pay £150,874 per migrant for a five-year processing and integration package including housing, food, education and medical services. This would cost some £4.5 billion if 30,000 migrants were deported.

Ministers argue that, if successful, the Rwanda scheme will act as a deterrent and could significantly reduce the current £5.6 billion annual cost of asylum support, resettlement and housing which includes hotels.

The Home Office document says Rwanda wants “a tightly controlled initial relocations phase – ie to allow them to test all of their arrangements and iron out any glitches, but then ramping up quickly when they’re confident in their arrangements..”

It notes that this is in line with the Home Office’s own “litigation strategy” where it wanted to “reduce the scope for mistakes” by immigration officials which would allow challenges by migrants to be reopened.

It suggested there would only be 500 migrants deported in the first year with 3,000 in each of the following years, although sources claimed this was out of date, as it predated the new Rwanda Bill and Supreme Court judgement last year.

Ministers have yet to enact the Illegal Migration Act, which means there is already a backlog of at least 20,000 migrants and up to 40,000 migrants who have entered the UK illegally since it got royal assent and should therefore be sent to Rwanda.

Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: “The Rwanda scheme would only remove a fraction of these people, with nearly all of them left stuck indefinitely instead of being granted a fair hearing on UK soil.”

On Sunday, Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, said the first flights would take off “within weeks” although she was unable to say whether the Government had found an airline to transport them.

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Hunt saboteurs target Jeremy Clarkson over ‘diddly squat’

Animal rights protesters targeted Jeremy Clarkson’s Hawkstone Brewery after he let a hunt whose former members have been fined for animal cruelty offences onto his land.

Campaigners descended on the site in Bourton-on-the-Water, Glos, with banners reading “Jezza, hands off me badgers” and “Stop those dirty hunts”.

The brewery is decorated with a mural of Clarkson and Kaleb Cooper, his co-star in Clarkson’s Farm, painted in the style of communist era icons.

Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs and Gloucestershire Badger Office said they organised the protest after Clarkson allowed The Heythrop Hunt onto his estate.

They said the group had been accused on “numerous” occasions of breaching the 2004 Hunting Act – which bans the use of dogs to capture and kill wild animals.

Lynn Sawyer, from Three Counties Hunt Saboteurs, said: “Clarkson is openly outspoken about his hatred for both foxes and badgers and seemingly is intentionally ignorant about the behaviours and impacts of both species.”

A spokesman for Action Against Foxhunting, who was also at the protest, added: “Jeremy Clarkson does diddly squat to protect wildlife.”

The campaigners, who made their voices heard on Wednesday, later delivered a letter outlining why they had gathered outside the property owned by the former Top Gear presenter.

The letter said Clarkson should not allow fox hunting on his land, not allow anyone to disturb badger setts or take part in a “badger cull”. Clarkson is not accused of breaking the law in any way.

The letter read: “We are writing this open letter to you concerning issues of wildlife persecution on land which you own. It has been noted that you give permission to the Heythrop Hunt to hunt on your land.

“They have been accused on numerous occasions of hunting wild mammals in breach of the Hunting Act 2004. We are writing to you in the hope that we can start a dialogue regarding wildlife persecution and protection.”

Clarkson previously revealed he had been reported to the police and denied that he filled in badger setts on his land. He claimed he was not at fault and branded animal rights protesters who reported him as “not very bright”.

A spokesman for The Heythrop Hunt said: “The Heythrop Hunt conducts lawful trail hunting activities to comply with the Hunting Act. The hunt liaises with landowners to obtain permission to conduct an activity which complies with the law and which is regulated by the British Hound Sports Association.

“More than 12,000 days of trail hunting take place each year, yet hunts and landowners are regularly subjected to spurious allegations made by activists with a political agenda to stop an activity which simply involves people following a pack of hounds which are following a scent that has been dragged across the countryside on a smelly rag.”

Diddly Squat Farm and Hawkstone Brewery have been contacted for comment.

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TV sex coach who uses ‘touch’ in therapy sued in civil court for rape

A TV sex coach who uses “touch” in his therapy sessions is being sued for rape by a former client.

Michael Lousada, 57, who charges hundreds of pounds for sessions and once appeared on ITV’s This Morning, is accused of assaulting child sexual abuse survivor Ella Janneh, 37, in a civil claim.

The High Court is due to hear that during a £750 session, he “sexually assaulted and raped” her, allegedly telling her his penis was “like a laser beam” that could “burn up trauma”.

The former investment banker turned “sex coach and sex educator” denies the allegations, claiming that it was a consensual encounter and a reasonable treatment for her issues.

Sought therapy

His defence case, seen by the Sunday Times, states that he “has worked with approximately 1,000 separate clients (and several thousand appointments) over the years, with approximately 30 to 40 of whom he has engaged in penile penetration”.

Ms Janneh, who has waived her right to anonymity, sought therapy to treat panic attacks she experienced during consensual sex and was seen by Mr Lousada at his clinic in north London in August 2016.

During the session, it is alleged that he touched, massaged and penetrated her with his penis. In her claim, she alleges that she “began to cry as she relived her child sexual abuse” and felt the onset of a panic attack.

She says that she would not have attended the session if she knew that there would be sexual touching involved.

‘Sexual healer’

Mr Lousada, who has been featured in magazines including Cosmopolitan and Women’s Health and a book by American feminist Naomi Woolf, says in his defence that he “worked as a sexual healer rather than a traditional psychotherapist” and Ms Janneh would have been aware of what the session entailed.

He claims in his defence that he asked her at each point that he made or changed contact whether it was OK to touch her and if she wanted him to continue and got a clear “yes” in response to each question.

Mr Lousada says that he explained he was trying to evoke an emotional response and help her release childhood trauma “stored in her body at a cellular level”.

He admits not wearing a condom during the “penile penetration element of the session” but says that he undergoes regular sexual health checks to protect his clients.

Civil trial

Ms Janneh reported her allegations to the Metropolitan Police, but the Crown Prosecution Service informed her in May 2018 it would not be pursuing a criminal trial.

A six-day civil trial is due to start at the High Court on Friday which will hear her claims for assault, including rape, and negligence against Michael Lousada and Anteros Books Ltd, a company where Mr Lousada was a director.

Ms Janner also argues that the assault was a negligent breach of the duty of care owed to her by a therapist and she is calling for more regulation of the profession.

When contacted by the Daily Telegraph, Mr Lousada said: “I am advised by my lawyers that it would be inappropriate to comment at this stage. My case is set out in the court papers and I will give evidence to the court.”

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