Author Salman Rushdie On Ventilator After New York Stabbing

Khomeini died the same year he issued the fatwa ordering Rushdie's execution. Though Iran hasn't focused on the writer in recent years, Iran's current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, never issued his own fatwa withdrawing the edict.

Author Salman Rushdie On Ventilator After New York Stabbing - SurgeZirc India
Author Salman Rushdie On Ventilator After New York Stabbing.

Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen Friday during a lecture in western New York by a man who rushed the stage as the author was about to speak.

Rushdie, 75, was airlifted to a hospital and underwent surgery. His agent, Andrew Wylie, said the writer was on a ventilator Friday evening, suffering from a damaged liver, severed nerves in his arm, and a potentially blind eye.

Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, was identified as the attacker by police. Following his arrest at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and retreat center where Rushdie was scheduled to speak, he was awaiting arraignment.

Matar was born in America to Lebanese parents who emigrated from Yaroun, a border village in southern Lebanon, according to Mayor Ali Tehfe. He was born a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was first published. The motive for the attack was unknown, according to State Police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski.

Many Muslims considered Rushdie’s 1988 novel to be blasphemous, citing the character as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad among other concerns. The book was outlawed in Iran, where late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, ordering Rushdie’s execution in 1989.

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Iran’s theocratic government and state-run media provided no explanation for Friday’s attack. Some Iranians interviewed by the Associated Press in Tehran praised the attack on an author they believe has tarnished the Islamic faith, while others were concerned that it will further isolate their country.

As the author was being introduced, an AP reporter saw the attacker confront Rushdie on stage and stab or punch him 10 to 15 times. Dr. Martin Haskell, one of those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s injuries as “serious but recoverable.”

Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, was also attacked. He is a co-founder of an organization that provides residencies to writers facing persecution. According to police, Reese suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from the hospital. He and Rushdie intended to talk about the United States as a safe haven for writers and other artists in exile.

A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to Rushdie’s lecture, and the trooper, according to state police, made the arrest.

However, following the attack, some longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given Rushdie’s decades of threats and a bounty on his head offering more than $3 million to anyone who killed him.

Matar, like other visitors, had obtained a pass to enter the Chautauqua Institution’s 750-acre grounds, according to Michael Hill, president of the institution.

Nathaniel Barone, the suspect’s attorney, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment. Authorities cordoned off Matar’s house.

Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the approximately 2,500 people who attended Rushdie’s appearance.

The attacker dashed onto the platform and began pounding on Mr. Rushdie. ‘What’s going on?’ you wonder at first. “And then, in a matter of seconds, it became abundantly clear that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He estimated that the attack lasted about 20 seconds.

Kathleen James, another witness, stated that the attacker was dressed in black and wore a black mask.

“We thought perhaps it was part of a stunt to show that there’s still a lot of controversy around this author. But it became evident in a few seconds” that it wasn’t, she said. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheatre.

The stabbing sent shockwaves from Chautauqua to the United Nations, which issued a statement expressing U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ horror and emphasizing that free expression and opinion should not be met with violence.

Iran’s UN mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s attack, which prompted evening news broadcasts on Iranian state television.

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

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

Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes, and the literary world recoiled at what Ian McEwan, a novelist and Rushdie’s friend, described as “an assault on freedom of thought and speech.”

“Salman has been an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across 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 deterred.”

According to PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel, the organization is unaware of any comparable act of violence against a literary writer in the United States. Rushdie was previously the president of the organization, which advocates for writers and free expression.

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

In riots over the book, at least 45 people were killed, including 12 in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. A Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death in 1991, while an Italian translator escaped a knife attack. The book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times in 1993 and survived.

Khomeini died the same year he issued the fatwa ordering Rushdie’s execution. Though Iran hasn’t focused on the writer in recent years, Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, never issued his own fatwa withdrawing the edict.

Because of the death threats and bounty, Rushdie went into hiding under a British government protection program that included a 24-hour armed guard. Rushdie emerged from seclusion after nine years and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism in general.

Rushdie’s memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa, was published in 2012. Rushdie’s pseudonym was the inspiration for the title. During a talk in New York the same year the memoir was released, he stated that terrorism was the art of fear.

“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.

Long after Khomeini’s decree, anti-Rushdie sentiment persisted. According to the Index on Censorship, an organization that promotes free expression, the money was raised as recently as 2016 to increase the reward for his murder.

An AP journalist who went to the Tehran office of the 15 Khordad Foundation, which put up the millions for Rushdie’s bounty, discovered it closed on Friday night, during the Iranian weekend. No one answered the phone at the listed number.

Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning novel “Midnight’s Children” in 1981, but his name became widely known after “The Satanic Verses.”

Kathleen James, another witness, stated that the attacker was dressed in black and wore a black mask. Spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheater amid gasps.

The stabbing sent shockwaves from Chautauqua to the United Nations, which issued a statement expressing U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ horror and emphasizing that free 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 was the lead story on Iranian state television’s evening news bulletin.

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

Rushdie has been a vocal advocate for free expression and liberal causes, and the literary world reacted angrily to what novelist and Rushdie friend Ian McEwan called “an assault on freedom of thought and speech.”

“Salman has been an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world. He is a fiery and generous spirit, a man of immense talent and courage and he will not be deterred,” McEwan said in a statement.

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

In riots over the book, at least 45 people were killed, including 12 in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. A Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death in 1991, while an Italian translator escaped a knife attack. The book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times in 1993 and survived.

Khomeini died the same year he issued the fatwa ordering Rushdie’s execution. Though Iran hasn’t focused on the writer in recent years, Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, never issued his own fatwa withdrawing the edict.

Because of the death threats and bounty, Rushdie went into hiding under a British government protection program that included a 24-hour armed guard. Rushdie emerged from seclusion after nine years and cautiously resumed more public appearances, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism in general.

Rushdie’s memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa, was published in 2012. Rushdie’s pseudonym was the inspiration for the title. During a New York talk the same year the memoir was released, he stated that terrorism was truly the art of fear.

“The only way you can defeat it is by deciding not to be afraid,” he said.

Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known around the world after “The Satanic Verses.”

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

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

At an evening vigil, a few hundred residents and visitors gathered for prayer, music and a long moment of silence.

“Hate can’t win,” one man shouted.

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