Salman Rushdie off ventilator after attack, suspect held without bail
CHAUTAUQUA, NY – Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses” who was stabbed on Friday while preparing to give a talk in upstate New York, has been taken off a ventilator and is able to speak.
The USA TODAY best-selling writer, whose work has previously led to death threats, suffered injuries to his neck and abdomen when an assailant attacked him as he prepared to give a talk at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York.
Rushdie, 75, remains hospitalized with serious injuries but is “on the road to recovery,” Rushdie’s agent Andrew Wylie of The Wylie Agency confirmed to The Associated Press on Sunday. Wylie warned that although “Rushdie’s condition is moving in the right direction”, his recovery would be a long process.
On Friday, Wylie said the writer suffered from a damaged liver, severed nerves in an arm and an eye that he was in danger of losing.
New York police say a state trooper assigned to the event arrested a suspect after the attack. At a press conference Friday afternoon, the suspect was identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, according to New York State Police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski.
He was arrested after the attack and charged with attempted second degree murder and second degree assault. Matar pleaded not guilty at an arraignment hearing in a New York court on Saturday.
A lawyer for the suspect pleaded on his behalf. Matar appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and a white mask. His hands were cuffed in front of him.
Investigators were scrambling to determine if the suspect, who was born a decade after the “Satanic Verses” was published, acted alone.
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The attack was planned in advance, District Attorney Jason Schmidt told the judge. He said Matar got a pass to the event where the author was speaking and arrived a day early with a fake ID.
On Saturday, the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education center, said it was increasing security with measures such as requiring photo ID to purchase passes. Patrons entering the amphitheater where Rushdie was attacked will also be prohibited from carrying bags.
President Joe Biden released a statement on Saturday saying he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” by the “vicious attack”, adding that he was “grateful” to the first responders who rushed to the side of Rushdie.
“Salman Rushdie – with his insight into humanity, with his unparalleled sense of history, with his refusal to be bullied or silenced – represents essential and universal ideals,” Biden said in the statement. “These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”
Earlier Friday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said in a statement that Rushdie “is an individual who has spent decades speaking truth to power. Someone who has been fearless despite the threats that followed him all his adult life, it seems.”
Travis Seward, managing director of 10Best at USA TODAY, was present at the event. He saw a man “linked” to the stage from the audience with his “arms up swinging”. Seward said he heard nothing of the man screaming and that Rushdie tried to get away from the attacker and fell.
“It’s really troubling for everyone here,” Seward said. “It’s a peaceful place and it was unexpected.”
Police say Rushdie was taken to hospital by helicopter, while event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was treated and discharged from hospital.
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The Chautauqua institution is “coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials in a public response,” according to a statement sent to USA TODAY.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, a nonprofit organization that works to defend freedom of expression through the advancement of literature and human rights, said in an emailed statement Friday that Rushdie had been “targeted for his lyrics”.
“PEN America is reeling in shock and horror at news of a brutal and premeditated attack on our former President and staunch ally, Salman Rushdie,” Nossel said. “We can think of no comparable incident of a violent public attack on a literary writer on American soil. … We fervently hope and believe that his essential voice cannot and will not be silenced.”
Rushdie is an Indian-born British-American novelist. He has written more than a dozen books and six of his novels are USA TODAY bestsellers. His book “The Satanic Verses” has been banned in Iran since the late 1980s, and many Muslims consider it blasphemous. History.com says, “The book poked fun at or at least contained mocking references to the Prophet Muhammad and other aspects of Islam, in addition to a character clearly based on Iran’s Supreme Leader.”
After the book was published, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
The Iranian government long distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment persisted. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation increased the bounty for Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.
It is unclear whether Friday’s attack had any connection to the edict.
Rushdie dismissed the threat at the time. That year Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton”, on the fatwa.
Colleen Lough, 65, of Grosse Ile, Michigan, visited Chautauqua for the first time this week and was seated about 20 rows from the scene where Rushdie was attacked. She said the attacker was dressed in black and had “black stockings or something” covering his face.
“It was just such a shock that it happened in front of us, and people just started shouting, ‘No! no!’ ” she says.
Lough is an Episcopal chaplain and has volunteered at nearby Hurlbut Church, caring for anyone who needs help coping with what they have witnessed.
“No one should ever have to fear danger or violence for speaking their minds,” she said. “Even in these political times, when many of us disagree, everyone should be able to speak their mind and have a discussion about it without fear of violence.
Dr. Michael E. Hill, president of the Chautauqua Institution, said at Friday’s press conference that the attack would not influence how the center chooses its lecturers.
“It’s been part of his whole life, to get ideas out there. He’s known as one of the most important defenders of free speech. And I think the worst thing Chautauqua can do is walk away from his mission in light of this tragedy, and I don’t think Mr. Rushdie would want that either,” Hill said.
Rushdie’s most recent novel, “Quixote,” was published in 2019. In it, Rushdie puts his spin on the Miguel de Cervantes classic with a modern-day Don Quixote satirizing the America of ancient President Donald Trump. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
In 2023, the author is set to release “Victory City: A Novel,” following a woman who “breathes a fantasy empire into existence, only to be consumed by it over the centuries,” according to the description. of the book.
Contributor: Kristen Shamus, The Detroit Free Press; Joshua Goodman, Carolyn Thompson and Hittel Italy, The Associated Press; Kim Willis and Elise Brisco, USA TODAY