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 remains hospitalized with serious injuries, but fellow author Aatish Taseer wrote in a since-deleted tweet Saturday night that he was “off a fan and talking (and joking)”. Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie of The Wylie Agency, confirmed this information to The Associated Press without giving further details.
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.
Who is Salman Rushdie? The author was assaulted on stage in New York
On Saturday, President Joe Biden released a statement 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. by 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, CEO of 10Best in 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.”
Rushdie was airlifted to hospital by helicopter, police said, and “the interviewer sustained a minor head injury.” Staniszewski said the interviewer was treated and released from hospital.
The Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education center, is “currently coordinating with law enforcement and emergency officials in a public response,” according to a statement emailed 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 over 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 this 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.
Contributors: Kristen Shamus, The Detroit Free Press, and Joshua Goodman, Carolyn Thompson and Hittel Italy, The Associated Press