CHAUTAUQUA, NY (AP) — Salman Rushdie, whose 1980s novel “The Satanic Verses” received death threats from Iran’s leader, was stabbed in the neck and stomach Friday by a man who stormed onto the stage as the author appeared. the point was 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 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 awaiting arraignment after his arrest at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and retreat center where Rushdie was to speak.
Matar was born in the United States to Lebanese parents who immigrated from Yaroun, a border village in southern Lebanon, Mayor Ali Tehfe told The Associated Press. Its birth was a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was first published.
The motive for the attack was unclear, said State Police Major Eugene Staniszewski.
Rushdie’s 1988 novel was considered blasphemous by many Muslims, who, among other things, saw a character as an insult to the prophet Muhammad. The book was banned in Iran, where in 1989 the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
Iran’s theocratic government and its state-run media have given no reason for Friday’s attack. In TehranSome Iranians interviewed by the AP on Saturday praised the attack on an author they believe has tarnished the Islamic faith, while others feared it would further isolate their country.
An AP reporter witnessed the attacker confront Rushdie on stage and stab or punch him 10 to 15 times while introducing the author. dr. Martin Haskell, a physician among those rushing to help, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable”.
Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, co-founder of an organization that provides lodgings for writers facing persecution, was also attacked. Reese suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from hospital, police said. He and Rushdie planned to talk about the United States as a haven for writers and other artists in exile.
A state trooper and a county deputy sheriff were assigned to Rushdie’s reading, and state police said the trooper made the arrest. But after the attack, some longtime visitors to the center wondered why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given decades of threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head that offered more than $3 million to anyone who killed him.
Matar, like other visitors, had been given a pass to enter the 750-acre site of the Chautauqua institution, said Michael Hill, the institution’s president.
The defendant’s attorney, public defender Nathaniel Barone, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment. Matar’s house was locked up by the authorities.
Rabbi Charles Savenor was one of approximately 2,500 people in the audience for Rushdie’s performance.
The attacker ran up the platform’ and began pounding Mr. Rushdie. At first you think, “What’s going on?” And then within seconds it became abundantly clear that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.
Another onlooker, Kathleen James, said the attacker was dressed in black, with a black mask.
“We thought maybe it was 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, she said.
Sobbing, the spectators were led out of the outdoor amphitheater.
The stabbing reverberated from the quiet town of Chautauqua to the United Nations, which issued a statement expressing the disgust of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and emphasizing that free speech 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 Adviser Jake Sullivan described the attack as “reprehensible” and said the Biden administration wished Rushdie a speedy recovery.
“This act of violence is horrific,” Sullivan said in a statement. “We are grateful to the good civilians and first responders for helping Mr. Rushdie so soon after the attack and law enforcement officers for their prompt and effective work, which is underway.”
Rushdie has been a prominent spokesperson for free speech and liberal causes, and the literary world has shied away from what Ian McEwan, a novelist and friend of Rushdie’s, described as “an attack on freedom of thought and expression.”
“Salman is an inspiring defender of persecuted writers and journalists around the world,” McEwan said in a statement. “He is a fiery and generous spirit, a man of enormous talent and courage and he is not deterred.”
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, said the organization was unaware of a similar act of violence against a literary writer in the US. Rushdie was once president of the group, which advocates for writers and free speech.
After the publication of ‘The Satanic Verses’, violent protests often erupted in the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family.
Riots over the book have killed at least 45 people, including 12 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 at three times and survived.
Khomeini died the same year he issued the fatwa demanding Rushdie’s death. Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has never issued its own fatwa to revoke the edict, although Iran has not targeted the writer in recent years.
The death threats and bounties prompted Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, which included a 24-hour armed guard. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism in general.
In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, ‘Joseph Anton’, about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie used during his hiding place. He said in a New York speech the same year that the memoir came out that terrorism was really the art of fear.
“The only way to beat it is to decide not to be afraid,” he said.
Anti-Rushdie sentiment has lingered long after Khomeini’s decree. The Index on Censorship, an organization that promotes free speech, said money was raised in 2016 to increase the reward for his murder.
An AP journalist who went to the office of the 15 Khordad Foundation in Tehran, which paid the millions for the bounty on Rushdie, found that it was closed Friday night over the Iranian weekend. No one answered calls to the phone number listed.
Rushdie rose to prominence with his 1981 Booker Prize winning novel ‘Midnight’s Children’, but his name became known around the world after ‘The Satanic Verses’.
Widely regarded as one of Britain’s finest living writers, Rushdie 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 award given to people who have made significant contributions. to art, science or public life.
The organizers of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which kicks off on Saturday in Scotland and is one of the world’s largest literary gatherings, 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 during this difficult time,” said festival director Nick Barley. “This tragedy is a painful reminder of the fragility of things we hold dear and a call to action: we will not be intimidated by those who would rather use violence than words.”
Located about 55 miles southwest of Buffalo in a rural corner of New York, the Chautauqua Institute has served as a place for reflection and spiritual guidance for over a century. Visitors do not go through metal detectors and do not undergo bag checks. Most people leave the doors of their centuries-old cottages unlocked at night.
The center is known for its summer lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken before.
During an evening vigil, several hundred residents and visitors gathered for prayer, music and a long moment of silence.
“Hate can’t win,” one man shouted.
Associated Press journalists John Wawrow in Chautauqua; Jennifer Peltz, Hillel Italy and Edith Lederer in New York City; Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; Ted Shaffrey in Fairview, New Jersey; Nasser Karimi and Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran, Iran; Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut; and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.