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Salman Rushdie stabbed in the neck while giving lectures in New

A witness, Ward Pautler, told The Daily Beast that Rushdie had just sat down when a man who was “heavy set and wearing a black headpiece” rushed the stage.

Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the neck by a man who rushed the stage as the British-Indian author was about to speak at an event in western New York on Thursday morning, according to law enforcement and witnesses.

The attack happened as Rushdie was about to address the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education center and summer resort near Buffalo, for a talk on the U.S. being an “asylum for writers and other artists in exile.” Rushdie was taken by helicopter to a hospital; while his condition is unclear, one witness told The Daily Beast that her husband saw Rushdie “able to walk with assistance” after the ambush.

Andrew Wylie, who represents Rushdie, told The Daily Beast around 2 p.m. that the author was in surgery but did not have any update on his condition. State Sen. George Borrello, who represents the district where Rushdie was attacked, said in a Friday statement that authorities believe the attacker was motivated “by fundamentalist extremism.”

Rushdie’s work, particularly his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, has attracted fierce protests, death threats, and even a fatwa for his assassination by the former religious leader of Iran, who accused Rushdie of blasphemy. A $4 million bounty on his head remains active to this day.

A witness, Ward Pautler, told The Daily Beast that Rushdie “had just come out and sat down” when he was attacked by a man who Pautler described as “heavy set and wearing a black headpiece.”

Sitting just three rows away from the small stage next to his brother-in-law, Pautler, 76, said that at first he thought the assailant was “punching Rushdie, but then I realized he was stabbing him.”

“It didn’t take long for me to realize that he wasn’t punching Rushdie because you don’t punch with the side of your hand,” he said. Pautler said that several people quickly jumped on the attacker to subdue him while others began to treat the author.

As people moved Rushdie away from the stage, Pautler said “there were other people with towels wiping up the blood.”

An endocrinologist, Rita Landman, was among those who rushed to help. She told The New York Times that Rushdie had multiple stab wounds—including one on the right side of his neck—but appeared to be alive.

“People were saying, ‘He has a pulse, he has a pulse, he has a pulse,’” she said.

New York State Police said in a statement that Rushdie suffered an “apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known.”

The person interviewing Rushdie also suffered “a minor head injury” and a state trooper assigned to the event “immediately took the suspect into custody,” the statement said. During a Friday press conference about red flag laws, Governor Kathy Hochul said Rushdie was “alive” and “getting the care he needs at a local hospital.”

The lecture hall where Rushdie was stabbed had at least historically featured middling security measures, a former employee of the Chautauqua Institution, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said in an interview on Friday.

Bags were allowed, the employee told The Daily Beast, which they claimed had concerned staffers at the institute as high-profile speakers like Rushdie frequently visit.

In a brief phone call, the Chautauqua Institution told The Daily Beast: “We are dealing with an emergency at this time and have no further comment or information to provide.” They did not respond to follow-up requests for comment on security arrangements.

Marion Baumgarten, who attended the talk with her husband, told The Daily Beast that the ambush “happened very quickly.”

She said she saw a man in a mask rush the stage and, from her seat in the middle of the amphitheater about eight rows up, it looked like he was punching Rushdie.

“I later heard it was a stabbing,” she said, adding that the assailant “was tackled right away.” Afterward, she said her husband saw Rushdie “able to walk with assistance.”

“Everyone was shocked,” Baumgarten said. “Many people in the audience were crying.”

An Associated Press reporter who was at the event gave a similar account, saying a man stormed the stage and began punching or stabbing Rushdie as he was being introduced. “The author was taken or fell to the floor, and the man was restrained,” AP reported.

The Satanic Verses, which uses magical realism and was partly inspired by the life of the Prophet Muhammad, has sparked bombings, attempted killings, and murders, including the fatal stabbing of its Japanese translator in 1991, and the near-fatal stabbing of its Italian translator by an Iranian who had previously asked the translator for Rushdie’s address. In 1993, Satanic’s Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, was seriously injured in a shooting outside his home in Oslo.

Rushdie was forced into hiding for 10 years when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued the fatwa after claiming the book mocked the Islamic faith. He was the target of several unsuccessful assassination attempts, received police protection in the U.K., and was prohibited for more than a decade from visiting his native India, where the book was banned.

The novel was nevertheless critically acclaimed, earning Rushdie a Booker Prize nomination.

Rushdie was scheduled to speak Friday alongside Henry Reese, the co-founder and president of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, which was founded in 2004 to provide sanctuary to writers exiled under threat of persecution.

The event was billed as a discussion of “the United States as asylum for writers and other artists in exile and as a home for freedom of creative expression.”

The Chautauqua Institution was founded partially by the Methodist church in 1874, and was the birthplace of the nationwide Chautauqua movement popular across the country in the early part of the 20th century. Over the decades, the religious emphasis has waned, and the roughly 2,000-acre compound has become more of a bucolic place where people come to soak up some culture while they vacation with their families, often for the institution’s entire summer season. During the season, the facility has its own orchestra, opera and theater companies, and a satellite branch of the state university system. It also schedules a steady stream of lecturers and artistic performances from June to August. Rushdie would have been one of those speakers.

“We ask for your prayers for Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese, and patience as we fully focus on coordinating with police officials following a tragic incident at the Amphitheater today,” the Chautauqua Institution said in a tweet Friday. “All programs are canceled for the remainder of the day. Please consult the NYS Police statement.”

—with additional reporting by Malcolm Jones and Rachel Olding
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Friday, August 12, 2022
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