CHAUTAUQUA, NY –
Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” received death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen on Friday by a man who came onstage as the author was about to give a speech. conference in western New York.
A bloody 75-year-old Rushdie was airlifted to a hospital and underwent surgery. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said the writer was on a ventilator Friday night with a damaged liver, severed nerves in his arm and an eye he was likely to lose.
Police identified the attacker as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey. He was arrested at the scene and was awaiting arraignment. Matar was born a decade after the publication of “The Satanic Verses”. The motive for the attack was unclear, state police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski said.
An Associated Press reporter watched as the attacker confronted Rushdie onstage at the Chautauqua Institution and punched or stabbed him 10 to 15 times as he was being introduced. The author was pushed or fell to the ground and the man was arrested.
Dr. Martin Haskell, a doctor who was among those rushing to help, described Rushdie’s injuries as “serious but recoverable”.
The event’s moderator, Henry Reese, 73, co-founder of an organization that provides residencies for writers facing persecution, was also attacked. Reese suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie were to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.
A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to Rushdie’s conference, and state police said the trooper made the arrest. But after the attack, some long-time visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given decades of threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head that offers more than $3 million to anyone. mate.
Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the approximately 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, the spectators were ushered out of the open-air amphitheater.
The assailant ran onto the platform “and started hitting Mr. Rushdie. At first you think, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became very clear within a few seconds that he was being hit,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.
Another bystander, Kathleen James, said the attacker was dressed in black, wearing a black mask.
“We thought maybe it was part of a stunt to show that there is still a lot of controversy surrounding this author. But it became clear within seconds” that it wasn’t, he said.
Matar, like other visitors, obtained a pass to enter the institution’s 750-acre grounds, President Michael Hill said.
The suspect’s attorney, public defender Nathaniel Barone, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment. Matar’s house was blocked by the authorities.
Rushdie has been a leading spokesman for free speech and liberal causes, and the literary world recoiled from what Rushdie’s friend and novelist Ian McEwan described as “an assault on freedom of thought and expression.”
“Salman has been an inspiring advocate for persecuted writers and journalists around the world,” McEwan said in a statement. “He is a fiery and generous spirit, a man of immense talent and courage and he will not be intimidated.”
PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said the organization was not aware of any comparable acts of violence against a literary writer in the US Rushdie was once president of the group, which advocates for writers and free speech.
Rushdie’s 1988 novel was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims, who saw the character as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Often violent protests erupted across the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family.
At least 45 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 people in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.
The book was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, in 1989 calling for Rushdie’s death. Khomeini died that same year.
Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years has not targeted the writer.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack, which headlined a nightly news bulletin on Iranian state television.
The death threats and reward drove Rushdie into hiding under a British government protection program, which included a 24-hour armed guard. Rushdie emerged from nine years in seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, keeping his open criticism of religious extremism in general.
He said in a 2012 talk in New York that terrorism is really the art of fear.
“The only way you can beat him is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.
Anti-Rushdie sentiment has persisted long after the Khomeini decree. The Index on Censorship, an organization that promotes free speech, said money was raised to increase the reward for his murder in 2016.
An Associated Press reporter who went to the Tehran office of the 15 Khordad Foundation, which put up the millions for Rushdie’s reward, found it closed Friday night over the Iranian weekend. No one answered the calls to his listed phone number.
In 2012 Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton”, about the fatwa. The title comes from the pseudonym Rushdie had used while he was in hiding.
Rushdie rose to fame with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”
Widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest living writers, Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008 and, earlier this year, made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour, a royal accolade for individuals who have made a significant contribution to the arts. , science or public life.
In a tweet, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lamented that Rushdie was attacked “while exercising a right that we must never stop defending.”
The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served for more than a century as a place of reflection and spiritual guidance. Visitors do not pass through metal detectors or undergo baggage checks. Most people leave the doors of their centuries-old cabins open at night.
The center is known for its summer conference series, where Rushdie has spoken before.
At an evening vigil, a few hundred residents and visitors gathered to pray, listen to music and observe a long moment of silence.
“Hate cannot win,” one man yelled.
Associated Press reporters John Wawrow in Chautauqua; Jennifer Peltz and Hillel Italie in New York City; Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; Ted Shaffrey in Fairview, NJ; and Nasser Karimi and Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.