The US State Department slammed the “despicable” incitement against Salman Rushdie by Iranian institutions and the media coverage of the famed author’s stabbing in upstate New York during a live event on Friday, accusing state-affiliated networks of having “gloated” about the attempt on his life.
In a statement late Sunday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Rushdie was “in our thoughts in the aftermath of this heinous attack.”
“Specifically, Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life. This is despicable,” said Blinken.
Just hours after Friday’s attack at a literary event in western New York state, the British author had undergone emergency surgery for potentially life-threatening injuries.
Two days later, Rushdie was on the road to recovery and showing signs of his “feisty and defiant” self, family and friends said Sunday, days after the shocking assault left him on a ventilator with multiple stab wounds.
“While law enforcement officials continue to investigate the attack, I am reminded of the pernicious forces that seek to undermine these rights, including through hate speech and incitement to violence,” Blinken said.
Rushdie’s condition, while still serious, has since shown clear signs of improvement and he no longer requires assisted breathing.
“He’s off the ventilator, so the road to recovery has begun,” his agent Andrew Wylie said in a statement Sunday. “It will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction.”
Rushdie’s son said the family was “extremely relieved” that his father was breathing unaided and had been able to “say a few words.”
“Though his life-changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty and defiant sense of humor remains intact,” Zafar Rushdie said in a statement.
The prize-winning writer — who spent years under police protection after Iranian leaders called for Rushdie’s killing over his portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed in his novel “The Satanic Verses” — was about to be interviewed as part of a lecture series when a man rushed the stage and stabbed him repeatedly in the neck and abdomen.
The suspected assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar from New Jersey, was wrestled to the ground by staff and other audience members before being taken into police custody.
He was later arraigned in court and pleaded not guilty to attempted murder charges. He is scheduled to appear again on August 19.
A ‘moody introvert’
In an interview published in the Daily Mail on Sunday, the suspected assailant’s mother said that while she couldn’t “believe he was capable of doing something like this,” her son was “responsible for his actions” and the family would “move on from this, without him.”
Silvana Fardos told the British publication that her US-born son had been a quiet, well-liked teenager, but became a “moody introvert” who spent most of his time in the family home’s basement in Fairview, New Jersey following a trip to Lebanon in 2018.
“He was very quiet, everyone loved him. As I said to the FBI I’m not going to bother talking to him again. He’s responsible for his actions,” said Fardos. Both she and Matar’s father, Hassan, immigrated to the US from Lebanon. The Daily Mail said they emigrated from the southern Lebanese town of Yaroun, a stronghold of terror group Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy.
A Hezbollah spokesperson told Reuters that the group knew nothing of the attack. “We don’t know anything about this subject so we will not comment,” the official told Reuters on Friday.
Matar’s parents, both born Muslim, raised him in Cudahy, California, before divorcing in 2004, according to the Daily Mail report. Fardos said her ex-husband returned to Lebanon and she moved to new Jersey. Fardos also has 14-year-old twin daughters.
“I have another two minors that I need to take care of. They are upset, they’re shocked. All we can do is try to move on from this, without him,” Fardos said following an FBI raid on the family home on Friday after the attempt on Rushdie’s life.
Fardos said a visit to see his father in Lebanon four years ago was a turning point in his life, after which he became more religious and isolated himself in the basement.
“I was expecting him to come back motivated, to complete school, to get his degree and a job. But instead he locked himself in the basement. He had changed a lot, he didn’t say anything to me or his sisters for months,” she said.
“I couldn’t tell you much about his life after that because he has isolated me since 2018. If I approach him sometimes he says hi, sometimes he just ignores me and walks away. He sleeps during the day and wakes and eats during the night. He lives in the basement. He cooks his own food,” she added.
Fardos said Matar would get angry at her for not raising him according to Islam.
“One time he argued with me asking why I encouraged him to get an education instead of focusing on religion. He was angry that I did not introduce him to Islam from a young age,’ Fardos told the Daily Mail.
“I don’t care about politics, I’m not religious. I was born a Muslim and that’s it basically. I didn’t push my kids into religion or force anything on my son. I don’t know anyone in Iran, all my family are here,” she said.
“I’m Lebanese but I’ve been here for 26 years. I’m living a simple life as a single mom, trying to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table for my kids,” added Fardos.
The FBI, she said, took her son’s “computer, his PlayStation, some books, some other items including knives and a sharpener,” in the raid.
Fardos said she feels “sorry for Mr Rushdie.”
“I hope he recovers but there’s nothing much I can say or do because this wasn’t my act,” she said.
Questions surround suspect
Matar is being held without bail and has been formally charged with second-degree attempted murder and assault with a weapon.
Police and prosecutors have provided scant information about his background or the possible motivation behind the attack.
The 75-year-old Rushdie had been living under an effective death sentence since 1989.
That was when Iran’s then-supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a religious decree, or fatwa, ordering Muslims to kill the writer for what he deemed the blasphemous nature of “The Satanic Verses.”
Rushdie, who was born in India in 1947, moved to New York two decades ago and became a US citizen in 2016. Despite the continued threat to his life, he was increasingly seen in public – often without noticeable security.
In an interview given to Germany’s Stern magazine days before Friday’s attack, he had described how his life had resumed a degree of normality following his relocation from Britain.
“Ever since I’ve been living in America… really there hasn’t been a problem in all that time,” he said.
The stabbing triggered international outrage from politicians, literary figures and ordinary people.
US President Joe Biden called it a “vicious” attack and praised Rushdie for “his refusal to be intimidated or silenced.” British leader Boris Johnson said he was “appalled.”
But the attack also drew applause from Islamist hardliners in Iran and Pakistan.