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Stabbing of Salman Rushdie

Stabbing of Salman Rushdie
Part of Islamic extremism in the United States
Chautauqua 2022 - Wikimedia and the Future of History - Amphitheater crowd from stage.jpg
Amphitheater stage where the attack occurred, as seen on July 20, 2022
LocationChautauqua Amphitheater Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, New York, U.S.
Coordinates42°12′30″N 79°27′51″W / 42.2084°N 79.4643°W / 42.2084; -79.4643Coordinates: 42°12′30″N 79°27′51″W / 42.2084°N 79.4643°W / 42.2084; -79.4643
DateAugust 12, 2022; 12 days ago (2022-08-12)
c. 10:47 am (EDT)
TargetSalman Rushdie
Attack type
Stabbing
Injured
  • Salman Rushdie
  • Henry Reese
Arrests1
MotiveIslamic extremism (attempted realization of fatwa against Rushdie)
AccusedHadi Matar
Charges

On August 12, 2022, a man stabbed novelist Sir Salman Rushdie multiple times as he was about to give a public lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York, United States. A 24-year-old suspect, Hadi Matar, was arrested at the scene, and was charged the following day with assault and attempted murder. Rushdie was gravely wounded and hospitalized.

Rushdie, an Indian-born British-American, was threatened with death in 1989, a year after the publication of his novel The Satanic Verses, when the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his assassination and set a bounty of $3 million for his death. For years, Rushdie lived in hiding and took strict security measures which became more relaxed over time.

The government of Iran denied having foreknowledge of the stabbing, although Iranian state-controlled media celebrated it. U.S. law enforcement is investigating whether the assailant was in contact with other extremists.

Background

Rushdie had been living under threat of assassination since 1989. The Satanic Verses, his fourth novel, garnered critical acclaim as well as threats from hardliner Shia Muslims upon its 1988 publication. Ayatollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a 1989 fatwa calling for Rushdie's assassination, forcing Rushdie into hiding for several years. Hitoshi Igarashi, who translated The Satanic Verses in Japanese, was stabbed to death in July 1991. Ten days before, the book's Italian translator Ettore Capriolo was stabbed multiple times at his home in Milan.

The Execution of Imam's Order Directive set a US$3million bounty on Rushdie, with the 15 Khordad Foundation offering to pay it. The bounty against Rushdie has never been lifted, though in 1998, the government of Iran looked to distance itself from the fatwa and pledged to cease the urge that it be carried out. In 2017, however, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reaffirmed that the edict remained in effect, saying, "The decree is as Imam Khomeini issued."

In the aftermath, the Foundation remained quiet and declined to answer the Associated Press.

In the years prior to the stabbing, Rushdie traveled without a security detail, and the Chautauqua festival where he was speaking was known for its "accessible" and "relaxed environment". Two weeks before he was stabbed, Rushdie told German current affairs magazine Stern that "nowadays my life is very normal again", and that social media would have made his life "more dangerous, infinitely more dangerous" had it existed in the 1980s. According to the co-founder of City of Asylum, Henry Reese (who was scheduled to interview Rushdie), the novelist had promised him just before they went onstage together that he would tour the United States to create new opportunities for the asylum and protection of persecuted artists.

Attack

Salman Rushdie (left) and Henry Reese (right) were injured

On August 12, at around 10:47 a.m. EDT, an attacker rushed the stage of Chautauqua Institution, where Rushdie was about to give a talk about the United States as a safe haven for exiled writers. The assailant stabbed him ten times, straining to continue the attack even as several people held him back. One of these people was the co-founder of City of Asylum, Henry Reese, onstage at the time, about to begin interviewing Rushdie. During the assault, Reese sustained a shallow knife wound and deep bruising in the vicinity of his right eye. A doctor, who was present for the lecture, immediately tended to Rushdie.

A New York state trooper and a sheriff's deputy who were present at the event arrested the assailant at the scene.

Rushdie was flown by helicopter to UPMC Hamot, a tertiary-level hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania. The novelist's literary agent, Andrew Wylie, said on the evening of August 12 that Rushdie had undergone surgery, and was on a ventilator, unable to speak. Wylie said that Rushdie faced the prospect of losing one of his eyes, in addition to the possibility of liver damage and multiple severed nerves in one arm.

Rushdie suffered four wounds to the stomach area of his abdomen, three wounds to the right side of the front part of his neck, one wound to his right eye, one wound to his chest and one wound to his right thigh. Later on August 13, Wylie said that Rushdie had been taken off the ventilator and was able to speak and joke. On August 14, Wylie said that Rushdie was on the "road to recovery", adding, "it will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction." Rushdie's son Zafar stated: "Though his life-changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact". Zafar also wrote: "Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself."

Investigation

The investigation into Rushdie's stabbing is being led by the New York State Police, with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Chautauqua County's district attorney.

The suspect, Hadi Matar, was charged in state court with attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault and remanded without bail. Matar pleaded not guilty.

Suspect

Matar, a 24-year-old man from Fairview, New Jersey, was arrested at the scene. Matar was born in California. His parents emigrated from Yaroun in the south of Lebanon, a village where support for Hezbollah and the Iranian government is common. Hezbollah spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment, but denied all involvement in the attack. Matar's father returned to southern Lebanon several years ago and lives in Yaroun, and according to Yaroun's mayor Ali Tehfe, Matar's father locked himself in his house since the attack and is refusing to speak to anyone.

Matar's mother told the MailOnline that her son had changed after a 2018 trip to Lebanon to visit his father and that the trip had left him feeling isolated. She said she hoped that Rushdie would get well and that she did not intend to speak to her son again.

A source in law enforcement told local news that Matar's social media accounts indicated support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and for "Shia extremism". The New York Post, referencing law enforcement, reported that Matar expressed views in support of the Iranian government. Matar was carrying a fake driver's license using the same second name as that of the assassinated Hezbollah leader, Imad Mughniyeh. Matar had obtained an advance pass to attend the event.

Response

A spokesperson for the Biden administration in the United States issued a statement publicly condemning the attack. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Iranian state media of gloating and called their behavior "despicable". British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also issued statements of outrage over the attack and expressed well-wishes for Rushdie.

In India, where The Satanic Verses is set and which was the first country to ban it, the response was mainly muted; most political leaders, writers and public figures, barring a few, remained silent on the issue. The Guardian noted that the silence on the issue from Indian Muslim leaders was due to heightened religious tensions in the country in recent years which they were choosing not to further ignite with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party which has also remained silent. Natwar Singh, the former foreign minister who originally advised then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to ban the book, justified his actions in the aftermath of the attack saying "The entire Muslim world is going to flare up. We have a large number of Muslims and apart from that, what the book contains at this time is not acceptable." Among Indian politicians who condemned the attack were Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, Shashi Tharoor and Karti Chidambaram of the Indian National Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) leader Kavita Krishnan and Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi.

Iran officially denied any involvement in the attack against Rushdie. According to The Observer, senior officials in Iran linked the stabbing to nuclear talks between Iran and the United States. Iranian-American political analyst Mohammad Marandi, a member of Iran's nuclear negotiations team, wrote: "I won't be shedding tears for a writer who spouts endless hatred & contempt for Muslims & Islam." Marandi also alluded to a conspiracy theory suggesting that the action reflected an attempt by Iran's enemies to harm its image, writing "is it a coincidence that just when we are on the verge of revitalising the nuclear agreement, America makes claims about an attempted assassination of Bolton and then this happens?" Marandi's statement referenced the United States Department of Justice's allegation that Iran had planned to assassinate US national security advisor John Bolton in 2020.

Within Iran, conservative newspapers generally welcomed the attack, as well as the state broadcaster (who referred to Rushdie as an apostate), while reformist publications such as Etemad condemned it.

In Lebanon, Iran-backed Hezbollah denied any prior knowledge of the incident. However, Hezbollah supporters hailed the attacker on social media, calling him a hero, and using the hashtag "holy stabbing" in their posts.

Imran Khan, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, said "you can't justify what happened" in response to the stabbing.

On August 19, a public reading of Rushdie's works organized by PEN America was held outside the New York Public Library with many prominent writers taking part, including Paul Auster, Kiran Desai, Roya Hakakian, Aasif Mandvi, and Gay Talese. People unable to attend were urged to hold similar "Stand with Salman" events in their areas.

Cultural effect

The CEO of PEN America commented, "We cannot immediately think of any comparable incident of a public violent attack on a writer during a literary event here in the United States." The New York Times reported that the incident sent "ripples of 'shock and horror' through the literary world". Nobel laureates Kazuo Ishiguro and Abdulrazak Gurnah were among the first to issue statements defending Rushdie, while his fellow Booker Prize winners Ian McEwan and Arundhati Roy also condemned the stabbing. Shortly afterwards, other Booker Prize winners, such as Graham Swift, Margaret Atwood and Ben Okri, would also publish their responses to Rushdie's stabbing. The home page of the Booker Prize's website was also updated to reflect the attack on its "most decorated author" and the website also published an article — written by the Booker Prize Foundation's literary director Gaby Wood — urging people to "celebrate his limitless imagination and his impact on the literary landscape".

On the day of the attack, Islamic studies expert Kylie Moore-Gilbert wrote: "More than 30 years and a $3 million bounty later, Khomeini's poisonous fatwa has finally caught up with Salman Rushdie. A black day for freedoms of speech, expression, religion & conscience. A tragic day for literature." Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian journalist in exile, condemned the stabbing of Rushdie, calling it an "attack on freedom of speech".

Paul Tighe, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, spoke in support of Rushdie as he opened an exhibition the day after the attack.

Two days after Rushdie was stabbed, France's Goncourt Academy issued a statement in which it said it "condemns the barbaric act for which there can be no justification ... [and] offers its unconditional support and solidarity" to Rushdie.

The assault on Rushdie resulted in renewed interest in obtaining copies of The Satanic Verses, with the novel ranked number thirteen on Amazon.com by the afternoon after he was stabbed. Within days, the novel's Spanish translation was a number one bestseller and other books written by Rushdie, including Midnight's Children, were also selling well, whereas on the day he was stabbed, his books were outside the top 100.

Security at the Chautauqua Institution

Questions were raised after the stabbing of Rushdie about security at the event, although a state trooper and a sheriff's officer were present. Michael Hill, president of the Chautauqua Institution, stated that it had been ensured that law enforcement officers were present for the event. He described the assault on Rushdie as "unlike anything in [the institution's] nearly 150-year history". However, one eyewitness claimed that there was no security onstage. One attendee noted that while food and drink was prevented from being brought into the event, there was no screening for weapons.

It emerged that the leadership of the Chautauqua Institution disregarded recommendations for security precautions because they felt it would alienate the audience from the speakers. Following the attack, the Chautauqua Institution announced it would require guests to furnish photo IDs to buy gate passes, which could be purchased anonymously before. Carried bags will also be banned in the amphitheater.

See also

This page was last updated at 2022-08-24 06:29 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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