Salman Rushdie, whose novel the satanic verses received death threats from the leader of Iran in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen on Friday by a man who came on stage as the author was about to give a lecture in western New York.
Rushdie, 75, bloodied, was airlifted to a hospital and was undergoing surgery, police said. His condition was not immediately known.
Police identified the attacker as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey. He was arrested at the scene and was awaiting arraignment. State Police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski said the motive for the stabbing was unclear.
An Associated Press reporter saw a man confront Rushdie as he was being introduced onstage at the Chautauqua Institution and punched or stabbed him 10 to 15 times. 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, 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.
Lack of security questioned
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 longtime 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 who I killed him.
After the attack, spectators were ushered out of the open-air amphitheater. Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the approximately 2,500 people in the audience.
“This guy ran up on the platform and started punching 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 the attack lasted about 20 seconds.
Another bystander, Kathleen James, said the attacker was dressed in black and was 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,” he said, noting that it soon became clear that it was not a stunt.
Matar, like other visitors, had obtained a pass to enter the institution’s 750-acre grounds, the organization’s president 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 prominent spokesman for free speech and liberal causes. He is a former president of the nonprofit PEN America, which said he was “reeling from the shock and horror” of the attack.
“We cannot think of any comparable incident of a violent public attack on a literary writer on American soil,” Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said in a statement.
Death threats followed the novel
rushdie’s book the satanic verses, first published in 1988, was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims. Often violent protests against Rushdie broke out around the world, including a riot that killed 12 people in Mumbai.
The novel was banned in Iran, where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989. Khomeini died that same year.
Shortly after, a wave of violence followed. Also in 1989, four bombs were planted outside Penguin bookstores, one of which exploded in the north of England; Penguin was the British publisher of the satanic verses.
In 1991, the satanic versesItalian translator Ettore Capriolo was beaten and knifed by a man claiming to be Iranian. Less than two weeks later, Hitoshi Igarashi, who translated the book into Japanese, was stabbed to death by an attacker in Tokyo.
Iran’s current leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has never withdrawn the fatwa, though Iran has not targeted the writer in recent years.
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.
Rushdie committed to freedom of expression
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 of seclusion and cautiously resumed more public appearances, keeping his open criticism of religious extremism in general.
Novelist and professor of English at the University of Toronto Randy Boyagoda, who says he has interviewed Rushdie on numerous occasions, said Rushdie’s commitment to free speech is what guides his career.
He said that while the public focuses on Satanic Verses and the violence and controversy surrounding it is likely a “source of frustration” for Rushdie, he continues to speak publicly about the book and the danger artists can face for speaking out, to defend the power of the written word.
“Here’s someone who wasn’t romantic about it, as, frankly, a lot of us are, but in fact, he risked his own life to continue his work,” Boyagoda said.
Rushdie himself has said that he is proud of his fight for free speech, saying 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.
fatwa still standing
Iran’s government has long distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has persisted.
The Index on Censorship, an organization that promotes free speech, said money was raised to increase the reward for his murder in 2016, underscoring the fact that the fatwa for his death still stands.
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 on life under the fatwa, entitled jose antonwhich was the pseudonym he used while in hiding.
Although the author rose to fame with his 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel children of midnighthis name became known throughout the world after Satanic Verses.
Widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest living writers, Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2008 and, earlier this year, made a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour, a royal accolade for people who have made an important contribution to the arts. , science or public life.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “horrified” that Rushdie was stabbed “while exercising a right we should never stop defending.”
Dismayed that Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed to death while exercising a right that we must never stop defending.
At this time my thoughts are with his loved ones. We all hope you’re okay.
The Chautauqua Institution, about 56 miles 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.
The Chautauqua center is known for its summer conference series, where Rushdie has spoken before.
“We were founded to bring people together” to learn and seek solutions to important problems, said the institution’s president, Michael Hill. “Now we are called to face fear and the worst of human traits: hate.”
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