Best-selling author Salman Rushdie was attacked Friday as he was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York. Rushdie suffered stab wounds to the abdomen and neck and remains hospitalized. Andrew Wylie of The Wylie Agency, Rushdie’s agent, said Friday evening that the author was on a ventilator, has a damaged liver, severed nerves in an arm and he is likely to lose one eye from the attack.
The Suspect is in Custody
A suspect was taken into custody after the attack, and was identified as Hadi Matar, 24, from Fairview, New Jersey, according to New York State Police Major Eugene Staniszewski. Charges against Matar have yet to be filed as officials work with the District Attorney to review evidence. They also do not “have any indication of a motivation at this time.”
A Horrific Scene for all in Attendance
According to Travis Seward, general manager for 10Best at USA Today who was at the event, the man “bound” toward the stage from the audience with his “arms out swinging.” Seward said he didn’t hear any shouting from the man, and Rushdie tried to get away from the attacker but fell. “It’s really unsettling to everybody here. It’s a peaceful place and it was unexpected,” Seward said. Rushdie was taken to a hospital by helicopter.
An AP reporter, also in attendance, witnessed the attacker stab or punch the author 10 to 15 times when the author was being introduced. The event moderator, Henry Reese, 73, was also attacked and suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from the hospital, according to police. Reese and Rushdie were about to being speaking about the United States as s refuge for writers and other artists in exile when the attack occurred.
The Book Spawned Death Threats After Being Published in 1988
“The Satanic Verses,” Rushdie’s novel, drew death threats in 1988 after it was published. It was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims, and was banned in Iran where the late leader Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, calling for the author’s death. Could this be a motive for Matar’s attack? It’s currently unclear as Matar was born a decade after the book hit shelves. Investigators are currently working to determine whether or not Matar worked alone or if there are other assailants.
CEO of PEN America, a nonprofit organization that works to defend free expression through the advancement of literature and human rights, Suzanne Nossel, said Rushdie was “targeted for his words,” in an emailed statement on Friday. “PEN America is reeling from shock and horror at word of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former President and stalwart ally, Salman Rushdie. We can think of no comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil,” she wrote.
Visitors Want to Know Why There Wasn’t More Security Present
While there was a state trooper and county sheriff’s deputy assigned to the lecture for security, longtime visitors to the center questioned why there wasn’t more security for this event since there have been many years of threats against Rushdie. It has been said that there is even a bounty on his head offering more than $3 million to anyone who kills him. Michael Hill, the institution’s president said that all visitors to the 750-acre grounds had to obtain a pass to enter, and Matar did.
This incident wasn’t the first act of violence that has come from the publication of “The Satanic Verses.” Violent protests have occurred across the Muslim world against the author. More than 40 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 people in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. A Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death in 1991, as well as an Italian translator who survived the knife attack. And then in 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.
The Chautauqua Institution is a Community of Artists
The Chautauqua Institution has served as a place for reflection and spiritual guidance, in a rural section of New York about 55 miles outside of Buffalo. A description on their website reads, “We are a community of artists, educators, thinkers, faith leaders and friends dedicated to exploring the best in humanity. Whether it’s your first time visiting or your fiftieth, our promise is the same: Wisdom will be gleaned. Memories will be made. Life will be enriched. Positive change is your charge.”
Visitors of the institution do not have to go through metal detectors or have bags checked before entering. Programs were canceled for August 13 on the grounds, according to a message on their website that reads, “Saturday, August 13: 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. programs have been canceled. Grounds access limited to pass holders, those residing or renting on the grounds and staff. Service workers need to visit ticket office for credentialing. Photo ID required.”