Hadi Matar, a twenty-four-year-old resident of Fairview, New Jersey, was arraigned on charges of second-degree attempted murder and assault with a weapon in a courthouse in Mayville, New York on Saturday. He was detained by police at the nearby Chautauqua Institution on Friday, after attacking celebrated author Salman Rushdie.
Prosecutors said that Rushdie was stabbed approximately 10 times, and that the attack was premeditated and targeted.
It is believed that Matar traveled by bus to the educational center in far Western New York, about a 45-minute drive from Erie, Pennsylvania, then purchased a ticket to see Rushdie speak.
A public defender entered the plea of not guilty on behalf of Matar, who will next appear in court on Friday.
Rushdie, who was airlifted to an area hospital after the attack, was taken off a ventilator on Saturday, and was able to speak, a positive sign of increased stability. “The road to recovery has begun,” Rushie’s agent Andrew Wylie said in a text to the New York Times on Sunday. “It will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction.”
On Friday the New York State police said there was no indication of a motive at the time.
In 1988, roughly a decade before Matar was born, Rushdie published The Satanic Verses, a magical-realist novel that some deemed blasphemous against Islam. One year later, Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie, calling for Rushdie’s death. The author, a British citizen born to a Muslim family in India, went into hiding, eventually relocating to the United States where he attained dual citizenship in 2016.
In 1991 the Italian translator of The Satanic Verses was gravely injured in a stabbing attack in Milan, and the Japanese translator was killed at a college campus near Tokyo. (The case remains unsolved.) The Norwegian publisher of the book was shot three times in Oslo in 1993, surviving the attack. That same year, a mob set fire to a hotel in Sivas, Turkey where writer Aziz Nesin, who was working on a Turkish translation of the book, was attending a conference. Thirty-seven people died. Numerous bookstores were bombed in the U.K. for carrying the book and two in Berkeley, California. The offices of a small weekly paper in the Bronx, New York were destroyed after publishing an essay that condemned stores that refused to carry The Satanic Verses.
Rushdie, who was knighted in 2007, won the Booker Prize for his 1981 novel Midnight’s Children. In addition to many other laurels, he was awarded the Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Cultural Humanism by Harvard University. Over time, Rushdie’s life appeared to take on some semblance of normalcy, even lampooning living under a fatwa on Curb Your Enthusiasm. The 75-year-old Rushdie has been married four times, most recently to author, actress, Top Chef host, and Star Trek: Enterprise guest star Padma Lakshmi.
President Joe Biden released a statement on Saturday, offering words of dismay about the attack, and praise for first responders. “Salman Rushdie—with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced—stands for essential, universal ideals. Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society. And today, we reaffirm our commitment to those deeply American values in solidarity with Rushdie and all those who stand for freedom of expression.”
According to the Associated Press, an Iranian newspaper featured a picture of Rushdie on a stretcher with the headline “Satan on the path to hell.” The Iranian organization known as the 15th Khordad Foundation, which put a bounty on Rushdie’s head worth $3 million, has declined to comment.
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