MAYVILLE, NY — Salman Rushdie is “on the road to recovery,” his agent confirmed Sunday, two days after the author of “The Satanic Verses” suffered serious injuries in a stabbing at a lecture in New York state.
The announcement followed news that the acclaimed writer was removed from a ventilator Sat and able to talk and joke. Wylie continued to warn that while 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 an eye, Wylie had previously said, and would likely lose the injured eye.
Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty Saturday to attempted murder and assault in what a prosecutor called “a targeted, unprovoked, pre-planned attack” at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education – and retreat center.
The attack has shocked and outraged the world, along with tribute and praise to the award-winning author who has endured death threats and a $3 million bounty on his head for “The Satanic Verses” for more than three decades. Rushdie even went into hiding for nine years as part of a British government protection program.
Authors, activists and government officials cited Rushdie’s courage and longstanding champion of free speech in the face of such harassment. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan labeled Rushdie “an inspiring defender of persecuted writers and journalists around the world”, and actor-author Kal Penn called him a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South. -Asian diaspora to whom he has shown incredible warmth.”
“Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unparalleled sense of story, with his refusal to intimidate or silence — stands for essential, universal ideals,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement Saturday. “Truth. Courage. Resistance. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”
Iran’s state newspaper, Iran Daily, praised the attack on Sunday as an “execution of a divine decree”. Another hardline newspaper, Kayhan, called it “divine revenge” that would partially calm the anger of Muslims.
Investigators tried to determine whether the suspect, born nearly a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was published, was acting alone. A prosecutor alluded to the standing fatwa as a possible motive to argue against bail.
“His resources are not important to me. We understand that the agenda carried out yesterday is something that has been adopted and endorsed by larger groups and organizations well beyond Chautauqua County’s jurisdictional boundaries,” District Attorney Jason Schmidt said.
Schmidt said Matar took steps to deliberately position himself to harm Rushdie by getting an entry pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early with a fake ID. The judge ordered Matar to be held without bail.
Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities had taken too long to get Matar to appear in court as they sat him “at a bench in the state police barracks” and emphasized that Matar had a right to presumed innocence.
Barone said after the hearing that Matar has communicated openly with him and that in the coming weeks he will try to learn more about his client, including whether he has mental or addiction problems.
Matar was born in the United States to parents who immigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the village mayor, Ali Tehfe, told The Associated Press. Flags of the Iran-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah are visible throughout the village, along with portraits of Hezbollah and Iranian leaders.
Journalists who visited Yaroun on Saturday were asked to leave. Hezbollah spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
A state agent and a deputy to the district sheriff were assigned to Rushdie’s lecture, and police said the officer made the arrest. But in retrospect, some longtime visitors to the rural vacation colony wondered why there wasn’t tighter security, given the history of threats against Rushdie.
On Friday, an AP reporter saw the attacker stab or hit Rushdie about 10 or 15 times.
Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury and was released from a hospital, police said. He and Rushdie planned to discuss the United States as a refuge for artists in exile.
News of the stabbing has sparked renewed interest in “The Satanic Verses,” which topped bestseller lists after the fatwa was issued in 1989. As of Sunday morning, the novel was number 11 on the Amazon list.
One of Rushdie’s ex-wives, the author and television host Padma Lakshmi, tweeted Sunday she was “relieved” by Rushdie’s prognosis.
“Concerned and wordless, can finally exhale,” she wrote. “Now hope for a speedy recovery.”
Rushdie’s son Zafar also commented on the attack. In a statement obtained by NBC News, while his father’s life-threatening injuries are serious, Zafar said “his usual snappy and defiant sense of humor remains intact.”
Diana Dasrath contributed.