Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from Iran’s leader in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and stomach on Friday by a man who took to the stage as the author lectured in western New York.
Rushdie, 75, was taken to the hospital in a pool of blood and underwent surgery. His agent, Andrew Wyllie, said the writer was on a ventilator Friday evening, had damaged his liver, ruptured nerves in his arm and was likely to have lost an eye. Police identified the attacker as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey.
He was arrested at the scene and was awaiting arraignment. Matar was born a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was published. The motive for the attack was unclear; State Police Maj. Eugene Staniszewski said.
Dr Martin Haskell, a physician who was among those who rushed to help, described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”
Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, a co-founder of an organization that offers residencies to writers facing persecution, was also attacked. Reese suffered a facial injury and was treated and released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie were due to discuss the United States as a refuge for writers and other artists in exile.
A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to Rushdie’s lecture, and state police said the trooper made the arrest. But after the attack, some longtime visitors to the centre questioned why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given the decades of threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head offering more than $3 million for anyone who kills him.
Rabbi Charles Savenor was among the roughly 2,500 people in the audience. Amid gasps, spectators were ushered out of the outdoor amphitheatre.
The assailant ran onto the platform “and started pounding on Mr Rushdie. At first, you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then it became abundantly clear in a few seconds that he was being beaten,” Savenor said. He said the attack lasted about 20 seconds.
Another spectator, Kathleen James, said the attacker was dressed in black with 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.
Matar, like other visitors, had obtained a pass to enter the institution’s 750-acre grounds, President Michael Hill said.
The suspect’s attorney, public defender Nathaniel Barone, said he was still gathering information and declined to comment. Authorities blocked off Matar’s home.
The stabbing reverberated from the tranquil town of Chautauqua to the United Nations, which issued a statement expressing U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ horror at the attack and stressing that free expression and opinion should not be met with violence.
Rushdie has been a prominent spokesman for free expression and liberal causes. The literary world recoiled at what Ian McEwan, a novelist and Rushdie’s friend, described as “an assault on freedom of thought and speech.”
In 2012, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa. The title came from the pseudonym Rushdie used while in hiding.
Rushdie rose to prominence with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” but his name became known worldwide after “The Satanic Verses.”
Widely regarded as one of Britain’s finest living writers, Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008 and earlier this year was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honor, a royal accolade for people who have made a significant contribution to the arts, science or public life.
In a tweet, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson deplored that Rushdie was attacked “while exercising a right we should never cease to defend.”
The Chautauqua Institution, about 55 miles (89 kilometres) 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 centre is known for its summertime lecture series, where Rushdie has spoken.
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.