Rushdie shows signs of improvement
ERIE, United States — The man accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie at a literary event pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges on Saturday, as the severely injured author appeared to show signs of improvement.
Hadi Matar, 24, was arraigned in court in New York state, with prosecutors outlining how Rushdie had been stabbed approximately 10 times in what they described as a planned, premeditated assault.
After Friday’s on-stage attack, Rushdie had been helicoptered to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery.
His agent, Andrew Wylie, had said the writer was on a ventilator and in danger of losing an eye, but in an update on Saturday, he told the New York Times that Rushdie had started to talk again, suggesting his condition had improved.
The author of “The Satanic Verses” and “Midnight’s Children” had lived in hiding for years after Iran’s first supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ordered his killing.
And while the stabbing triggered international outrage, it also drew applause from Islamist hardliners in Iran and Pakistan.
Matar is being held without bail and has been formally charged with second-degree attempted murder and assault with a weapon. Police provided no information on his background or what might have motivated him.
Effective death sentence
Rushdie, 75, had been living under an effective death sentence since 1989 when Khomeini issued a religious decree or fatwa ordering Muslims to kill the writer.
The fatwa followed the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” which enraged some Muslims who said it was blasphemous for its portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
In a recent interview with Germany’s Stern magazine, Rushdie spoke of how, after so many years living with death threats, his life was “getting back to normal.”
“For whatever it was, eight or nine years, it was quite serious,” he said. “But ever since I’ve been living in America since the year 2000, there really hasn’t been a problem in all that time.”
He moved to New York in the early 2000s and became an American citizen in 2016. Despite the continued threat to his life, he was increasingly seen in public, often without noticeable security.
Security was not particularly tight at Friday’s event at the Chautauqua Institution, which hosts arts programs in a tranquil lakeside community near Buffalo.
Witnesses said Rushdie was seated on stage and preparing to speak when Matar sprang up from the audience and managed to stab him before being wrestled to the ground by staff and other spectators.
Matar’s family appears to come from the village of Yaroun in southern Lebanon, though he was born in the United States, according to a Lebanese official.
An Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporter who visited the village was told that Matar’s parents were divorced and his father—a shepherd—still lived there.
Journalists who approached his father’s home were turned away.
Matar was “born and raised in the US,” the head of the local municipality, Ali Qassem Tahfa, told AFP.
“The Satanic Verses” and its author remain deeply inflammatory in Iran. When asked by AFP on Saturday, nobody in Tehran’s main book market dared to openly condemn the stabbing.
“I was very happy to hear the news,” said Mehrab Bigdeli, a man in his 50s studying to become a Muslim cleric.
The message was similar in Iran’s conservative media, with one state-owned paper saying the “neck of the devil” had been “cut by a razor.”
In Pakistan, a spokesperson for the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, a party that has staged violent protests, said Rushdie “deserved to be killed.”
Elsewhere, there was shock and outrage.
US President Joe Biden called it a “vicious” attack and offered prayers for Rushdie’s recovery.
“Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced — stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience,” he said in a statement.
British leader Boris Johnson said he was “appalled” while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the attack “reprehensible” and “cowardly.”
Messages also flooded in from the literary world with Rushdie’s close friend, Ian McEwan, calling him an “inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world.”
Rushdie was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel, “Midnight’s Children,” in 1981 which won international praise for its portrayal of postindependence India.
But “The Satanic Verses,” published in 1988, transformed his life. The resulting fatwa forced him into nearly a decade in hiding, moving houses repeatedly and being unable to tell even his children where he lived.