MAYVILLE, N.Y. — Salman Rushdie remained hospitalized Saturday after suffering serious injuries in a stabbing attack, which was met with shock and outrage from much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years has faced death threats for his novel “The Satanic Verses.”
Rushdie (75) was injured in his liver and had to be ventilated. He also suffered severe nerve damage and lost the ability to talk. Rushdie could lose the eye.
Authors, activists and government officials condemned the attack and cited Rushdie’s courage for his longtime advocacy of free speech despite the risks to his own safety. Rushdie’s fellow author and longtime friend Ian McEwan called him “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world,” and the actor-author Kal Penn cited him as a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora toward whom he’s shown incredible warmth.”
Hadi Matar (24) was the victim. Rushdie had been scheduled to give a speech at Chautauqua Institution when he was attacked.
According to authorities, Matar hails from Fairview in New Jersey. Ali Tehfe said Matar, the mayor, was American born to Lebanese parents. They emigrated from Yaroun in south Lebanon.
Rushdie, a native of India who has since lived in Britain and the U.S., is known for his surreal and satirical prose style, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning novel from 1981, “Midnight’s Children,” in which he sharply criticized India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi. “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats after it was published in 1988, with many Muslims regarding as blasphemy a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
Khomeini was also killed in the year that he made the fatwa. It remains valid. Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.
Investigators were working to determine whether the assailant, born a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was published, acted alone.
Iran’s theocratic government and its state-run media assigned no rationale for the assault. Interviews conducted by the AP with Iranians in Tehran showed that many Iranians praised an attack on an Islamic author. However, others were worried about its potential isolation.
AP journalist witnessed Rushdie being attacked on stage by the attacker. He stabbed or punched him between 10 and 15 times while the author was being introduced. Dr. Martin Haskell, a physician who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”
Henry Reese, the event moderator, and co-founder a non-profit that grants residencies in order to help writers under persecution was also attacked. According to police, Reese was treated for a minor facial injury and was released from hospital. Rushdie and Reese had intended to talk about the United States’ role as refuge for exile writers and artists.
A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to Rushdie’s lecture, and state police said the trooper made the arrest. But after the attack, some longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given the threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head offering more than $3 million to anyone who killed him.
Matar, like other visitors, had obtained a pass to enter the Chautauqua Institution’s 750-acre grounds, Michael Hill, the institution’s president, said.
The suspect’s attorney, public defender Nathaniel Barone, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment. Matar’s home was blocked off by authorities.
Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the roughly 2,500 people in the audience for Rushdie’s appearance.
The assailant ran onto the platform “and started pounding on Mr. Rushdie. At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. The attack was said to have lasted approximately 20 seconds.
Kathleen James (a second witness) said that the attacker was wearing black clothes and a mask.
Audience members were gasped as they were led out of the amphitheater.
The stabbing reverberated from the tranquil town of Chautauqua to the United Nations, which issued a statement expressing U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ horror and stressing that free expression and opinion should not be met with violence.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack, which led an evening news bulletin on Iranian state television. From the White House, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan described the attack as “reprehensible” and said the Biden administration wished Rushdie a quick recovery.
After the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” often-violent protests erupted across the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family and has long identified as a non-believer, once calling himself “a hard-line atheist.”
At least 45 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 people in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. A Japanese translator was killed by stabbers in 1991. An Italian translator survived an attack with a knife. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.
Rushdie fled to safety under the protection of the British government, where he was protected by an armed guard who was available round-the clock. Rushdie was able to emerge after nine years in seclusion. He cautiously made more public appearances while continuing his criticism of religious extremism.
In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. Rushdie was hiding under a pseudonym that gave the title its name. In the same year that the memoir was published, he stated in a New York speech that terror was actually the art of fear.
“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.
Over a century, the Chautauqua Institution is located 55 miles (89km) southwest of Buffalo. This rural New York corner has provided a sanctuary for contemplation and spiritual guidance. Visitors don’t pass through metal detectors or undergo bag checks. Many people do not lock their cottages, which are often centuries-old, at night.
Rushdie was a frequent speaker at the center’s summertime lectures series.
A handful of hundred visitors and residents gathered at an evening vigil to pray, sing, and enjoy a moment of quiet.
“Hate can’t win,” one man shouted.
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