NEW YORK –
Salman Rushdie’s final honor was an award kept secret until minutes before he rose from his seat to accept it.
On Tuesday evening, the author received the first-ever Lifetime Disturbing the Peace Award, presented by the Vaclav Havel Center on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Only a handful of the more than 100 attendees were informed in advance about Rushdie, whose fate has been largely hidden from the general public since he was stabbed multiple times in August 2022 at a literary festival in the Western New York.
“I apologize for being a mystery guest,” Rushdie said Tuesday evening after being introduced by “Reading Lolita in Tehran” author Azar Nafisi. “I don’t feel mysterious at all. But it made life a little easier.”
The Havel Center, founded in 2012 as the Vaclav Havel Library Foundation, is named after the Czech playwright and dissident who became the last president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of the communist regime in the late 1980s. mission to advance the legacy of Havel, who died in 2011 and was known for defending human rights and freedom of expression. Many writers and diplomats attended Tuesday’s ceremony, hosted by longtime CBS reporter Lesley Stahl.
Alaa Abdel-Fattah, the imprisoned Egyptian activist, has received the Disturbing the Peace Prize given to a courageous writer in danger. His aunt, acclaimed author and translator Adhaf Soueif, accepted on his behalf and said she was aware of the award.
“He’s very grateful,” she said. “He was particularly pleased with the name of the award, ‘Disturbing the Peace.’ That really tickled him.”
Abdel-Fattah, who turns 42 later this week, rose to international prominence during the 2011 pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East that ousted longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Since then, he has been imprisoned several times under the presidency of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, making him a symbol for many of the continued autocratic rule in the country.
Rushdie, 76, pointed out that last month he received the German Bookstore’s Peace Prize and was now receiving an award for disturbing the peace, leaving him wondering which side of the “fence” he found himself.
He devoted much of his speech to praising Havel, a close friend whom he remembered as one of the first government leaders to defend him after the novelist was driven into hiding by the decree of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini calling for his death for the alleged blasphemy of “Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini”. Verses.”
Rushdie said Havel was “a kind of hero” who was “capable of being an artist as well as an activist.”
“He was an inspiration to me and to many, many writers, and to receive an award in his name is a great honour,” Rushdie added.