‘The Satanic Verses’ author Salman Rushdie on a ventilator unable to speak after being stabbed on the New York lecture stage

CHAUTAUQUA, NY — Salman Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses sparked death threats from the Iranian leader in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen on Friday by a man who rushed onto the stage as the author was about to give a lecture in western New York .

A bloodied Rushdie, 75, was flown to a hospital and operated on. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said the writer was on a ventilator as of Friday night with a damaged liver, severed nerves in his arm and an eye he is likely to lose.

Police identified the attacker as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey. He was awaiting indictment after his arrest at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and recreation center where Rushdie was scheduled to speak.

Matar was born in the United States to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun, a border village in southern Lebanon, Mayor Ali Tehfe told The Associated Press. His birth was a decade after The Satanic Verses was first published.

The motive for the attack is unclear, said State Police Major Eugene Staniszewski.

Rushdie’s 1988 novel was considered blasphemous by many Muslims, who saw a character as insulting the Prophet Muhammad, among other things. 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.

The theocratic Iranian government and its state-run media offered no rationale for Friday’s attack. In Tehran, some Iranians interviewed by AP on Saturday praised the attack on an author they believe sullied the Islamic faith, while others feared it would further isolate their country.

An AP reporter saw the attacker confront Rushdie on stage and stab or punch him 10 to 15 times as the author was being introduced. dr Martin Haskell, a doctor who rushed to the rescue, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but curable.”

The event’s moderator, Henry Reese, 73, co-founder of an organization that offers residencies to persecuted writers, was also attacked. Reese suffered a facial injury and was treated and discharged from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to speak about the United States as a haven for exiled writers and other artists.

A state police officer and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to hear Rushdie’s presentation, and state police said the officer made the arrest. But after the attack, some longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tightened security for the event, given decades of threats against Rushdie and a more than $3 million bounty on anyone who killed him.

Matar, like other visitors, had been given a pass to enter the Chautauqua Institution’s 750-acre site, said Michael Hill, the institution’s president.

The suspect’s attorney, Public Defender Nathaniel Barone, said he was still collecting information and declined to comment. Matar’s apartment has been cordoned off by the authorities.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the 2,500 or so who attended Rushdie’s performance.

The assailant ran onto the platform “and began beating Mr. Rushdie. First you ask yourself: ‘What’s going on?’ And then in a few seconds it became abundantly clear 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 and had a black mask.

“We thought it might be part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy surrounding this author. But it became clear in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said.

Taking a deep breath, the spectators were led out of the open-air amphitheater.

The stabbing echoed from the tranquil town of Chautauqua to the United Nations, which issued a statement expressing the dismay of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and stressing that freedom of expression and opinion should not be met with violence.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack, which ran an evening news program on Iranian state television.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called the attack “reprehensible” and said the Biden administration wished Rushdie a speedy recovery.

“This act of violence is appalling,” Sullivan said in a statement. “We are grateful to the good citizens and first responders for helping Mr Rushdie so quickly after the attack and to law enforcement for their prompt and effective work which is ongoing.”

Rushdie was a prominent spokesman for free speech and liberal causes, and the literary world balked at what Ian McEwan, a novelist and Rushdie’s friend, called an “assault on freedom of thought and speech.”

“Salman has been an inspirational defender of 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 swayed.”

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said the organization knows of no comparable act of violence against a literary author in the United States. Rushdie was once president of the group that advocates for writers and free speech.

Following the publication of The Satanic Verses, protests against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family, erupted in often violent protests across the Muslim world.

At least 45 people have been 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 and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

Khomeini died the same year that he issued the fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has never issued his own fatwa withdrawing the edict, although Iran has not focused on the author in recent years.

The death threats and bounty prompted Rushdie to go into hiding under a UK government protection program that included a 24-hour armed guard. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, while maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

In 2012, Rushdie published his memoir Joseph Anton on the fatwa. The title comes from the pseudonym Rushdie, which he used while in hiding. He said during a New York lecture the same year the memoir was published that terrorism really is the art of fear.

“The only way to defeat it is to choose not to be afraid,” he said.

Anti-Rushdie sentiment persisted long after Khomeini’s decree. The Index on Censorship, an organization promoting free speech, said it was not until 2016 that money was raised to increase the reward for his killing.

An AP journalist who went to the Tehran office of the 15 Khordad Foundation, which raised the millions for the bounty on Rushdie’s head, found it closed Friday night over the Iranian weekend. No one answered calls to the phone number provided.

Rushdie is best known for his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel Midnight’s Children, but his name became known around the world after The Satanic Verses.

Rushdie, widely regarded as one of Britain’s finest living writers, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008 and earlier this year was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honor, a royal decoration given to people who have made a major contribution to the world have accomplished art, science or public life.

Organizers of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which opens in Scotland on Saturday and is one of the biggest literary gatherings in the world, are encouraging guest authors to read a sentence from Rushdie’s work at the start of their events.

“We are inspired by his courage and are thinking of him at this difficult time,” said festival director Nick Barley. “This tragedy is a painful reminder of the fragility of the things we hold dear and a call to action: we will not be intimidated by those who would use force instead of words.”

The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, has served as a place of reflection and spiritual guidance for more than a century. Visitors will not go through metal detectors or bag checks. Most people leave the doors of their centuries-old huts unlocked at night.

The center is known for its summer lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before.

At an evening vigil, several hundred residents and visitors gathered for prayer, music and a long minute’s silence.

“Hate can’t win,” shouted one man.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

https://abc7.com/salman-rushdie-attack-stabbing-ventilator/12121949/ ‘The Satanic Verses’ author Salman Rushdie on a ventilator unable to speak after being stabbed on the New York lecture stage

Laura Coffey

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