Author and intellectual Salman Rushdie is breathing with a ventilator after being airlifted to a local hospital following a stabbing attack at 11 a.m. on Friday at an event in Western New York, according to his agent.
Around 7 p.m. on Friday literary agent Andrew Wylie said that the writer is on a ventilator and could not speak, The New York Times reports.
“The news is not good,” Wylie said. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”
The revered yet controversial Indian-born British-American writer of a dozen novels, including 1981’s Midnight’s Children and the controversial The Satanic Verses, was stabbed while at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education center and summer resort in Chautauqua, New York, about 75 miles southwest of Buffalo; the institution puts on arts and literary events over nine weeks a year, according to the Times.
Those who witnessed the attack stated that the assailant charged at the stage as Rushdie was being introduced at an event. The man immediately began punching and stabbing the author with frightening violence and ferocity, eyewitnesses recounted.
“It took like five men to pull him away and he was still stabbing,” said Linda Abrams, who was sitting in the first row. “He was just furious, furious. Like intensely strong and just fast.”
On Friday, New York State Police Major Eugene J. Staniszewski named the suspect in the attack on Rushdie, saying that 24-year-old Hadi Matar, a New Jersey resident, is the assailant, the Times reported; Matar was arrested at the scene. Local investigators, working in tandem with the FBI, are currently looking for a motive and on Friday afternoon were working to obtain search warrants for a backpack and electronic devices discovered at the scene, the paper reported.
The 75-year-old has been targeted throughout a large part of his career for the uncompromising authenticity of his words and the robust freedom of his thought—traits that will always be frightening to those who have power only insofar as they suppress the power in others.
Rushdie spent 10 years in hiding under police protection after his 1989 novel Satanic Verses was deemed offensive to Islam by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran after the 1979 Iranian Revolution; Khomeini had called for the writer’s execution. The novel, which fictionalizes parts of the prophet Muhammad’s life, was also banned in India, resulting in the writer’s decade-long exile from the country of his birth.
In 1998, Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami, said that the Iranian government no longer supported the execution order. However, the fatwa, a religious order, to kill Rushdie remains in place. As of 2012, the bounty on Rushdie’s head, put up by an Iranian religious foundation, was roughly $3.3 million, the Times reports.
The speech to be given before the brutal stabbing was to celebrate the United States as a bastion of hope and a safe haven for writers, artists, and intellectuals seeking asylum from persecution and fear of being silenced for raising their voices against injustice.
The conversation was to be moderated by Henry Reese, the co-founder of City of Asylum, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that provides a residency program for exiled writers.
“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,” said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive officer of the nonprofit literary organization PEN America, the Times reports.
“Just hours before the attack, on Friday morning, Salman had emailed me to help with placements for Ukrainian writers in need of safe refuge from the grave perils they face,” Nossel added. “Salman Rushdie has been targeted for his words for decades but has never flinched nor faltered.”
Rushdie suffered multiple stab wounds during the attack, including one to the right side of his neck. Rita Landman, an endocrinologist who was in the audience, noticed that a pool of blood had formed under the author’s body, but noted that he appeared to be alive
“People were saying, ‘He has a pulse, he has a pulse, he has a pulse.’”
The assailant’s motivations are unclear and he has not yet been identified.
“There was just one attacker,” said Elisabeth Healey, who was in the audience. “He was dressed in black. He had a loose black garment on. He ran with lightning speed over to him.”
Some witnesses to the incident expressed concern surrounding the security measures in place at the literary event.
“It’s very open, it’s very accessible, it’s a very relaxed environment,” said Kyle Doershuk, who was working as an usher at the amphitheater. “In my opinion, something like this was just waiting to happen.”
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