MAYVILLE, NY — Salman Rushdie is “on the road to recovery,” his agent, Andrew Wylie, confirmed Sunday, two days after “The Satanic Verses” author was seriously injured in a stab wound during from a conference in upstate New York.
The announcement followed news that the lauded writer was taken off a ventilator on Saturday and able to talk and joke. Wylie went on to warn that although “Rushdie’s condition is moving in the right direction”, his recovery would be a long process. Rushdie, 75, suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and eye, Wylie previously said, and was at risk of losing the injured eye.
Hadi Matar, 24, pleaded not guilty on Saturday to attempted murder and assault in the attack on the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education and retreat center.
A judge ordered him held without bond after District Attorney Jason Schmidt told him Matar had taken steps to deliberately put himself in a position to harm Rushdie, getting an advance pass for the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early with a fake ID.
“This was a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack on Mr. Rushdie,” Schmidt said.
Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities took too long to bring Matar before a judge while leaving him “hanging from a bench in the state police barracks”.
“He has this constitutional right to the presumption of innocence,” Barone added.
The attack has prompted shock and outrage from much of the world, as well as tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years faced death threats for “The satanic verses”.
Authors, activists and government officials have cited Rushdie’s courage and longstanding defense of free speech despite risks to his own safety. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan called Rushdie “an inspirational advocate for persecuted writers and journalists around the world”, and actor-author Kal Penn cited him as a role model “for a whole generation of artists, especially for many of us in the South Asian diaspora, towards whom he showed incredible warmth.
President Joe Biden said in a statement on Saturday that he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” by the attack.
“Salman Rushdie – with his insight into humanity, with his unrivaled sense of history, with his refusal to be bullied or silenced – represents essential and universal ideals,” the statement read. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.
Rushdie, originally from India who has since lived in Britain and the United States, is known for his surreal and satirical style of prose, beginning with his 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel ‘Midnight’s Children’ in which he sharply criticized the Indian Prime Minister at the time. , Indira Gandhi.
“The Satanic Verses” drew death threats after it was published in 1988, with many Muslims considering a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad to be blasphemy, among other objections. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
Khomeini died the same year, but the fatwa remains in effect. Iran’s current supreme leader, Khamenei, has never issued a fatwa himself to revoke the edict, although Iran in recent years has not focused on the writer.
Investigators were scrambling to determine if the suspect, who was born a decade after the “Satanic Verses” was published, acted alone.
District Attorney Schmidt alluded to the fatwa as a potential ground for opposing bail.
“Even if this court were to set a bond of $1 million, we run the risk that the bond could be met,” Schmidt said.
“His resources don’t matter to me. We understand that the program that was executed yesterday is something that has been embraced and sanctioned by larger groups and organizations far beyond the jurisdictional boundaries of Chautauqua County,” the prosecutor said.
Barone, the public defender, said after the hearing that Matar was communicating openly with him and that he would spend the next few weeks trying to find out more about his client, including whether he had any psychological issues or addictions.
Matar is from Fairview, New Jersey. Rosaria Calabrese, director of the State of Fitness Boxing Club, a small gym near North Bergen, said Matar joined on April 11 and participated in about 27 group sessions for beginners looking to improve their fitness before emailed him several days ago to say he wanted to cancel his membership because “he won’t be back for a while”.
Gym owner Desmond Boyle said he saw “nothing violent” about Matar, describing him as polite and calm, but someone who always looked “extremely sad”. He said Matar resisted attempts by him and others to take him in and hire him.
“He had that look every time he walked in. It looked like it was the worst day of his life,” Boyle said.
Matar was born in the United States to immigrant parents from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the village’s mayor, Ali Tehfe, told The Associated Press.
Flags of the Iran-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah can be seen throughout the village, along with portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, Khamenei, Khomeini and slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
Journalists visiting Yaroun on Saturday have been asked to leave. Hezbollah spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
Iran’s theocratic government and its state media attributed no motive to the attack. In Tehran, some Iranians interviewed by the AP welcomed the attack on a perpetrator who they said tarnished the Islamic faith, while others feared it could further isolate their country.
On AP Friday, a reporter saw the assailant stab or punch Rushdie about 10 or 15 times.
Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was treated and discharged from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie had planned to discuss the United States as a haven for exiled writers and other artists.
A state trooper and a county sheriff’s deputy were assigned to the Rushdie conference, and police say the trooper made the arrest. But afterward, some longtime visitors to the Chautauqua facility wondered why security wasn’t tightened given the threats against Rushdie and a bounty of more than $3 million on his head.
On Saturday, the center said it was tightening security with measures such as requiring photo IDs to purchase passes, which previously could be obtained anonymously. Patrons entering the amphitheater where Rushdie was attacked will also be prohibited from carrying bags of any type.
The changes, along with an increased presence of armed police on the bucolic grounds, came as a shock to Chautauquans who have long enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere the nearly 150-year-old summer camp is known for.
News of the stabbing sparked renewed interest in ‘The Satanic Verses’, which topped bestseller lists after the fatwa was published in 1989. On Saturday afternoon, the novel ranked ranked 13th on Amazon.com.
The death threats and bounty Rushdie faced over the book after its publication led him into hiding under a UK government protection scheme, which included a 24-hour armed guard. nine years in solitary confinement, Rushdie has cautiously resumed more public appearances.
In 2012, he published a memoir on the fatwa titled “Joseph Anton”, the pseudonym he used while in hiding.
He told a conference in New York that year that terrorism was truly the art of fear: “The only way to defeat it is to decide not to be afraid.”
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