Salman Rushdie, writer, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in Cheltenham, England, on October 10, 2015.
David Levenson—Getty Images
August 13, 2022 3:23 PM EDT

One day after the world-renowned author, Salman Rushdie was stabbed at a speaking engagement in western New York, his alleged attacker has been charged with attempted murder and assault, according to a police statement released Saturday.

Witnesses say that the alleged attacker, Hadi Matar, 24, leaped onto the stage at Chautauqua Institution as Rushdie was being introduced and attacked him–an altercation that left Rushdie with multiple stab wounds, primarily in the neck. Rushdie was rushed to the hospital and remains on a ventilator. Matar pleaded not guilty Saturday.

“The news is not good,” Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, told the New York Times Friday evening. “Salman will likely lose one eye; the nerves in his arm were severed; and his liver was stabbed and damaged.”

The attack raised questions about potential security flaws at the institution, where Rushdie was presenting a lecture in a 4,000-person amphitheater. Matar reportedly bought a ticket to attend the event. The institution had previously rejected recommendations for security measures, such as bag checks and metal detectors, in an effort to preserve the connection between the lecturers and the audience, sources told CNN.

Matar, a Fairview, New Jersey resident, was booked in the Chautauqua county jail on one count of attempted second-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault because Henry Reese, Rushdie’s interviewer who was on stage too at the time of the attack, suffered a minor facial injury. Reese runs an organization that supports writers facing political persecution.

“Salman Rushdie is one of the great authors of our time and one of the great defenders of freedom of speech and freedom of creative expression. We revere him and our paramount concern is for his life,” Reese wrote for a PEN America tweet after the attack.

“The fact that this attack could occur in the United States is indicative of the threats to writers from many governments and from many individuals and organizations. In addition to wishing Salman well as Americans and citizens of the world, we need to re-commit ourselves to defending the values Salman has championed,” Reese added.

Authorities are still working to identify a motive for the attack. Rushdie has faced a long history of threats and violence since the publication of his 1998 novel, The Satanic Verses, based on the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, who in the novel adds three disputed verses to the Quran.

The book was promptly banned in over a dozen Muslim countries and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran declared a fatwa against Rushdie—an edict derived from Islamic law that calls for assasination. Since then, Rushdie and others involved in publishing The Satanic Verses have endured numerous attempts on their lives.

Fellow authors, activists and public officials are condemning the attack and reiterating the impact that Rushdie’s work and advocacy have had to preserve free speech despite all the risks he’s faced for decades.

Just weeks before the attack, Rushdie shared with the press that he thought his life was “relatively normal” now.

“It destroys my individuality as a person and as a writer,” Rushdie told the Guardian last year while talking about the fatwa. “I’m not a geopolitical entity. I’m someone writing in a room.”

 

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