CHAUTAUQUA, NY (AP) – Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and stomach Friday by a man who ran off the stage as the author was about to deliver. Study in Western New York.
A bleeding Rushdie, 75, was taken to hospital and underwent surgery. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said the writer was on a ventilator on Friday evening, with a damaged liver, severed veins 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 arraignment following his arrest at the Chautauqua Institute, a nonprofit educational and retreat center where Rushdie was scheduled 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. His birth was a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was first published.
The motive for the attack was unknown, State Police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski said.
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. The book was banned in Iran, where the late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, in 1989, calling for Rushdie’s death.
Iran’s theocratic government and its state-run media gave no reason for Friday’s attack. In Tehransome Iranians interviewed Saturday by the AP praised the attack on the author, who they believe tarnished the Islamic faith, while others feared it would further isolate their country.
An AP reporter witnessed the attacker confront Rushdie on stage and stabbed or punched him 10 to 15 times while the reporter was being introduced. Dr. Martin Haskell, a doctor who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s injuries as “serious but recoverable.”
Event organizer 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 the hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to discuss the United States as a refuge for other writers and artists in exile.
A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were given Rushdie’s lecture, and state police said the trooper was the one who arrested him. 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 offering more than $3 million for anyone who killed him.
Matar, like other guests, received a pass to enter the Chautauqua Institute’s 750-acre grounds, Michael Hill, the institute’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.
Rabbi Charles Savenor was among about 2,500 people in the audience for Rushdie’s appearance.
The attacker ran on stage “and started beating Mr. Rushdie.” At first you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became clear within seconds that he was being hit,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.
Another bystander, Kathleen James, said the attacker was wearing black clothes and a black mask.
“We thought maybe it was part of the problem to show that there is still a lot of controversy around this writer. But it was seen in a few seconds” that it was not the case, he said.
Amid groans, the audience was ushered out of the outdoor amphitheater.
The stabbing was echoed from the quiet town of Chautauqua to the United Nations, which issued a statement expressing the fears of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and stressing that freedom of expression 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 to an evening news report 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 appalling,” Sullivan said in a statement. “We are grateful to the kind citizens and first responders for helping Mr. Rushdie so quickly after the attack and to law enforcement for their swift and effective, ongoing work.”
Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free speech and liberal causes, and the literary world was outraged by what Ian McEwan, novelist and friend of Rushdie, described as “an invasion of freedom of thought and speech.”
“Salman has been a passionate advocate for persecuted writers and journalists around the world,” McEwan said in a statement. “He is a warm and kind soul, a man of great talent and courage and will not be held back.”
PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said the organization is not aware of any comparable act of violence against a literary writer in the United States. Rushdie served as president of the group, which defends writers and freedom of expression.
After the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” frequent violent protests broke out in the Muslim world against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family.
About 45 people were killed in the riots caused by the book, including 12 people in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, the Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and the Italian translator survived the stabbing. In 1993, a Norwegian book publisher was shot three times and survived.
Khomeini died the same year he issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, never issued his own fatwa to lift the decree, although Iran in recent years has not heeded the author.
Death threats and bounty sent Rushdie into hiding under the British government’s protection scheme, which included armed guards around the clock. Rushdie emerged after nine years of seclusion and cautiously re-emerged in public, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism in general.
In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. The name was derived from the pseudonym Rushdie used while in hiding. He said during the talks in New York in the same year, the memory came out that terrorism is the art of fear.
“The only way you can win is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.
Anti-Rushdie sentiments persisted long after Khomeini’s decree. The Index on Censorship, an organization that promotes freedom of expression, said the money was raised to increase the payment for his murder as recently as 2016.
An AP reporter who went to the Tehran office of the 15 Khordad Foundation, which has donated millions to Rushdie, found it closed Friday night during the Iranian weekend. No one answered the phone at his listed phone number.
Rushdie rose to fame with his 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel, “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”
Rushdie, who is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest writers, was awarded a prize by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008 and earlier this year was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour, a royal honor for people who have made a significant contribution to the arts. , science or public life.
Organizers of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which opens Saturday in Scotland and is one of the world’s largest literary gatherings, are encouraging visiting writers to read an award from Rushdie’s work at the start of their events.
“We are inspired by her courage and are thinking of her at this difficult time,” festival director Nick Barley said. “This tragedy is a painful reminder of the fragility of the things we value and a call to action: We will not be intimidated by those who would use violence instead of words.”
Chautauqua Institute, about 55 miles (89 km) southwest of Buffalo in a corner of rural New York, has served for more than a century as a place of meditation and spiritual guidance. Visitors do not go through metal detectors or bag checks. Many people leave the doors of their century-old houses open at night.
The center is known for its summer lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken in the past.
In the evening vigil, a few hundred residents and visitors gathered for prayers, music and a long period of silence.
“Hate cannot win,” one man yelled.
Associated Press reporters John Wawrow in Chautauqua; Jennifer Peltz, Hillel Italia 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.