CHAUTAUQUA, NY — Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses,” who was stabbed Friday while preparing to give a lecture in upstate New York, has been taken off a respirator and can speak.
The USA TODAY bestselling author, whose work has led to death threats before, sustained injuries to the neck and abdomen when an attacker attacked him as he was about to give a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York.
Rushdie remains hospitalized with serious injuries, but co-author Aatish Taseer wrote in a since-deleted tweet Saturday night he was “on the ventilator and talking (and joking).” Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie of The Wylie Agency, confirmed that information to The Associated Press without providing further details.
On Friday, Wylie said the writer suffered a damaged liver, severed nerves in one arm and an eye he was likely to lose.
New York police said a state trooper assigned to the event has taken a suspect into custody following the attack. In a press conference Friday afternoon, the suspect was identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, according to New York State Police Major Eugene Staniszewski.
He was arrested after the attack and charged with attempted murder and second-degree assault. Matar made a not-guilty plea during a court hearing in New York on Saturday.
A lawyer for the accused presented the case on his behalf. Matar appeared in court wearing a black and white jumpsuit and a white face mask. His hands were cuffed in front of him.
Who is Salman Rushdie? Author was attacked 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 “cruel attack”, adding that he was “grateful” to the first responders who rushed to Rushdie’s side.
“Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unparalleled sense of story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced — stands for essential, 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 “a person who has been telling the truth in power for decades. Someone who has not been scared there despite the threats that have followed him throughout his adult life, it seems.” .”
Travis Seward, general manager for 10Best at USA TODAY, attended the event. He witnessed a man being “tied up” from the audience to the stage with his “arms swinging out”. Seward said he didn’t hear 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 quiet place and it was unexpected.”
Rushdie was taken to a hospital by helicopter, police said, and the interviewer suffered a minor head injury. Staniszewski said the interviewer had been treated and released from the hospital.
The Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit educational center, “is currently coordinating with law enforcement and emergency services on a public response,” according to a statement emailed to USA TODAY.
Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, a nonprofit dedicated to defending free speech through the promotion of literature and human rights, said in an emailed statement Friday that Rushdie was “the target of his words.”
“PEN America trembles with shock and horror at hearing of a brutal, premeditated attack on our former president and staunch ally, Salman Rushdie,” said Nossel. “We cannot think of a comparable incident of a public violent attack on a literary writer on American soil. … We fervently hope and believe that his vital voice cannot 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 mocked or at least contained mocking references to the Prophet Muhammad and other aspects of Islam, in addition to a character clearly based on the Supreme Leader of Iran.”
After the book was published, Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.
The Iranian government has long distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment lingered. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation increased Rushdie’s bounty from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.
It is not clear whether Friday’s attack had any connection with the edict.
Rushdie rejected that threat at the time. That year, Rushdie published a memoir, “Joseph Anton,” about the fatwa.
Colleen Lough, 65, of Grosse Ile, Michigan, first visited Chautauqua this week, sitting about 20 rows from the podium where Rushdie was attacked. She said the attacker was dressed in black and had “a black stocking or something similar” over his face.
“It was such a shock that this happened before our eyes, and people just started screaming, ‘No! no!’ ” she said.
Lough is an Episcopal chaplain and has volunteered at nearby Hurlbut Church, serving anyone who needs help processing what they’ve seen.
“No one should ever be afraid of danger or violence to say what they think,” she said. “Even in these political times when many of us disagree, everyone should be able to say what they think and discuss it without fearing violence.”
dr. Michael E. Hill, chairman of the Chautauqua Institute, said at Friday’s press conference that the attack would not affect how the center chooses its speakers.
“This has been a part of his whole life, to put forward ideas. He is known as one of the foremost champions of free speech. And I think the worst thing Chautauqua can do is withdraw from his mission in the light of this tragedy, and I don’t think Mr Rushdie would want that either,” Hill said.
Rushdie’s most recent novel, “Quichotte,” was published in 2019. In it, Rushdie puts his spin on the Miguel de Cervantes classic with a modern-day Don Quixote that satirizes former President Donald Trump’s America. The book was long-listed for the Booker Prize.
In 2023, the author is expected to publish “Victory City: A Novel,” in which he follows a woman who “makes a fantastic empire, only to be consumed by it through the ages,” according to the book description.
Contributors: Kristen Shamus, The Detroit Free Press, and Joshua Goodman, Carolyn Thompson and Hittel Italie, The Associated Press