Author Salman Rushdie on fan hours after New York stabbing, agent says

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Author Salman Rushdie is treated after he was attacked during a conference on August 12 at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York, about 75 miles south of Buffalo.Joshua Goodman/The Associated Press

Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding and under police protection after his novel the satanic verses prompted Iranian officials to call for his assassination, was stabbed in the neck on stage Friday during an event in western New York.

The 75-year-old man was airlifted from the Chautauqua Institution near Lake Erie to a trauma center, where he underwent surgery. Rushdie was on a ventilator, his agent, Andrew Wylie, said. The attack drew swift condemnation from world leaders and Rushdie’s literary colleagues. New York State Police said at a news conference Friday that a 24-year-old suspect was in custody.

Mr. Wylie said in a statement that the perpetrator will likely lose an eye and has severed nerves in his arm and liver damage. “The news is not good,” the statement said.

Police identified the suspect as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey. He had obtained a pass to enter the institution’s 750-acre grounds, according to Chautauqua president Michael Hill. Police did not say anything about what the suspect’s motive may have been.

Law enforcement officers arrest Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, in front of the Chautauqua Institution on August 12, 2022, in Chautauqua, New York.Charles Fox/The Associated Press

Mr. Rushdie was scheduled to speak at 10:45 am as part of the institution’s summer program. The topic was “More Than Shelter: Redefining the American Home,” and Mr. Rushdie was to have been interviewed by Henry Reese, co-founder of a nonprofit that provides residencies for writers facing persecution. The couple had just been introduced when, according to several attendees, a man dressed all in black climbed onto the stage of the outdoor amphitheater and lunged at the perpetrator.

From his seat to the right of the stage, Susan Toller said, it appeared that the man was beating Mr. Rushdie with his fists, before Mr. Rushdie fell to the ground. For a few seconds, she said, the audience was silent, stunned.

“We’re all in shock, wondering, is this a weird joke?” said Mrs. Toller, who attends the program annually with her family.

Shortly after, a dozen people took to the stage and began to separate the two, with half the group holding down the attacker and the other half tending to Mr. Rushdie. A doctor in the crowd immediately began to offer first aid.

Video posted on social media of the aftermath of the attack showed a lone police officer on stage with a dog, raising questions about the lack of security for such a prominent and controversial figure.

A short video captures the scene in a Western New York conference room moments after author Salman Rushdie was stabbed to death. Rushdie was airlifted to hospital for treatment. The man who confronted Rushdie on stage at the Chautauqua Institution has been arrested.

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“We all wondered why there was no security there… We saw Jesse Jackson speak here several years ago, and there was very visible security around the amphitheater that day,” Ms. Toller recalled, noting that was not the case. Friday.

Paul Evans, who travels from California each year to attend the show, was also surprised by the lack of security, given the decades of threats against Rushdie.

“He just jumped onstage,” he said of the attacker. “There was no one standing around with sunglasses, talking into their sleeves.”

Although it is technically a gated community, Evans described the place as a “soft spot.”

In addition to permanent members, visitors can attend with day passes. “But there are no metal detectors or anything like that,” Evans said. “We have had presidents here and they bring their own security: police, helicopter, satellite phones and all that. And there has never been a problem. But, you know, all it takes is one person to get away.”

Anyone without a long-term pass would be turned away from campus on Friday night. Authorities said at Friday’s news conference that a New York state police officer and sheriff had been assigned to the event before the attack and had taken the suspect into custody.

Police said the search warrants would be executed shortly.

Mr. Reese sustained some injuries to his face in the attack and was treated and released.

Mr. Rushdie, former president of PEN America, has been a prominent spokesman for free expression.

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In photos: Author Salman Rushdie attacked on stage in New York

“We are deeply shocked by this terrible and violent attack on Salman Rushdie,” said Grace Westcott, president of PEN Canada, a nonprofit organization that promotes literature, fights censorship and helps free persecuted writers from prison.

“He has been living under threat of death for more than three decades, and yet he continues to write books and speak in public. She has often said that while his case of being threatened by a government for what he had written was prominent and well known, there are hundreds of other writers facing similar threats who are not widely known. He knows that he is not alone, they just know him.”

the satanic verses it was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims, who saw the book as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad. In 1989, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for the death of Mr. Rushdie, who was subsequently placed under police protection by the British government.

A Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death in 1991. An Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

In 1992, Mr. Rushdie made his first post-fatwa public appearance, at a PEN Canada benefit in his honor at the Winter Garden Theater in Toronto. It was an unannounced appearance, under heavy security. “There was an audible gasp as he came onstage,” Westcott said.

Rushdie made scheduled public appearances again in 1995. In 2017, he appeared in a control your enthusiasm episode that flouted the fatwa against him. “Oh, I have to live my life,” he told The New York Times last year.

The mission of the Chautauqua program is “to build bridges across differences,” Hill said at Friday night’s news conference.

“I think the worst thing Chautauqua could do is walk away from that mission … and I don’t think Mr. Rushdie would want that either.”

Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, a leading member of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riots, is scheduled to speak at the amphitheater on Monday.

With reports from Reuters and the Associated Press

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