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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Black-Clad Man Rushed Author on Stage:
Salman Rushdie attacked on stage at Chautauqua Institution Amphitheatre

Paul Harvey/Daily News:
Chaos erupts at Chautauqua Institution Friday
after author Salman Rushdie was attacked.
DATELINE 8/12/22 CHAUTAUQUA— Author Salman Rushdie, who has been the subject of Iranian death threats since 1989, was attacked and stabbed in the neck during an appearance Friday morning at Chautauqua Institution.

Rushdie, 75, had been set to participate in an on-stage discussion when the attacker rushed him. He was apparently stabbed in the neck and chest while another speaker was injured.

The attack was witnessed by Paul Harvey, a longtime staffer with The Daily News, who has a residence at the Institution.

“It happened very quickly,” Harvey said. “It happened almost precisely at 10:43 this morning. … Rushdie had just come to be seated on the conversation set on the stage, and it was about two minutes before it was about to begin, when this person — this unidentified man dressed in black, head to toe — rushed the stage.”

Harvey said he’s uncertain whether the attacker came from the side of the stage or behind it, although he thinks the former is more likely.

“He lunged at Rushdie, knocking him over, and from there he knocked over a couple pieces of the set, and a melee ensued,” Harvey said. “Within three or four minutes after that, Deborah Sunya Moore, the senior vice president and program officer, came to the lectern and ordered us to evacuate the amphitheater calmly, and go from there.”

The attacker was identified as Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, N.J. Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt will determine criminal charges once the investigation is completed.

Rushdie was rushed for medical attention by helicopter, state police said. His condition remained unknown Friday evening.

The other speaker at the event, Ralph Henry Reese, 73, suffered a minor head injury. A Chautauqua County sheriff’s canine trained in explosives detection helped clear a bag Matar had with him.

Harvey said he couldn’t confirm it, but believed Chautauqua Institution appeared to be in a semi-lockdown as of Friday afternoon.

The Institution canceled the rest of Friday’s programming after the attack.

“We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, and patience as we fully focus on coordinating and cooperating with police officials following a tragic incident at the Amphitheater today,” a pop-up statement reads on the Chautauqua Institution website.

The Buffalo News confirmed Rushdie is being treated at UPMC Hamot in Erie, Pa. The investigation, which also now includes the FBI, is continuing.

Reese is co-founder and president of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, which was founded in 2004 to provide sanctuary in Pittsburgh to writers exiled under threat of persecution. The organization leads literary-based programs and economic and community development through the arts, according to Chautauqua Institution’s website.

“It’s disconcerting,” Harvey said of witnessing the attack. “There’s no idea whether it was an individual attacking or whether he was motivated politically, or by a splinter group, considering what’s going on in the country — but this is the first time something like this has happened, in coming here for a long time.”

Rushdie had appeared 17 years ago at Chautauqua Institution with a heavy police presence, Harvey said. Police were also providing security Friday.

“The police right after the attack entered the stage with a police dog and they proceeded from there,” Harvey said.

Rushdie is the author of the 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses,” a prize-winning book which some Muslims have called blasphemous.

The Ayatollah Khomeini — Iran’s supreme leader at the time — issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death the following year.

Rushdie, an atheist, reportedly has a $3.3 million price on his head and has lived much of the ensuing decades under police protection or in hiding.

Rushdie was scheduled to speak with Reese at Chautauqua Institution’s summer literary festival, which draws some of the world’s most prominent authors, politicians and scientists to speak to thousands of guests.

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, represents the 57th District, which includes Chautauqua Institution and portions of Livingston County. He denounced the attack in a statement.

“This shocking attack on a celebrated and noted author, apparently prompted by fundamentalist extremism, has no place in America,” Borrello said. “The Founding Fathers fled tyranny and knew all too well the dangers of absolutism and religious zealotry. There is no room, in a free society, for beliefs that demand that you kill someone who disagrees with you.”

Sen. Borrello said he bought “The Satanic Verses” when the book was first released.

“I bought the book, as did so many others, as a show of support for Mr. Rushdie and for the basic human right of free speech,” Borrello said. “My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Rushdie and my hope is that he has a speedy recovery.”

Congressman and New York gubernatorial candidate Lee M. Zeldin also released a statement.

“Our thoughts are with Salman Rushdie’s family and friends as we pull for his full and quick recovery following this horrific attack,” he said. “We must hold the perpetrator of this violence accountable to the fullest extent of the law, and, equally as important, ensure that he remains in custody in an effort to protect public safety and everyday New Yorkers.”

Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul likewise commented, describing Rushdie as a person who “has spent decades speaking truth to power” and has been unafraid of the threats that follow him.

She commended state police and Reese, the event’s moderator. She said they continue to monitor the situation.

“It hits all of us, but we are undeterred then,” Hochul said. “We are undeterred in our commitment to make sure that we call it out, we condemn what happened, we condemn all violence, and we want people to feel that freedom to speak and to write truth.”

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