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Salman Rushdie ‘road to recovery has begun’ but ‘will be long,’ agent says

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Salman Rushdie’s “road to recovery has begun” but “will be long” after his stabbing in western New York late last week, his agent has said.

“The injuries are severe,” the agent, Andrew Wylie, said Sunday in an email to the Guardian, alluding to stab wounds that the author suffered to his neck, stomach, eye, chest and thigh two days earlier. “But his condition is headed in the right direction.”

The Indian-born British novelist remained hospitalised Sunday in critical condition, but he had been removed from a ventilator, which allowed him to talk and demonstrate that “his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact,” his son Zafar said in a separate statement.

Nonetheless, Zafar Rushdie added that his father’s wounds are “life changing”.

Earlier on Saturday, Hadi Matar, the man suspected in Friday’s attack at a literary festival in upstate New York, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault at a brief court appearance where he was denied bail.

Joe Biden, the US president, praised Rushdie for “his refusal to be intimidated or silenced” and said the author stood for the essential ideals of truth, courage and resilience. “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,” the president said in a statement. Biden also said he was “shocked and saddened to learn of the vicious attack”.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell “strongly” condemned the attack on Saturday night. “International rejection of such criminal actions, which violate fundamental rights and freedoms, is the only path towards a better and more peaceful world”, Borrell tweeted.

Rushdie lived in hiding and under police protection for years after late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini put out a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death in retribution for Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. Many Muslims interpreted the author’s book as blasphemous because it included a character they found insulting to the prophet Muhammad.

Rushdie, 75, was at the Chautauqua Institution to speak about the importance of America’s giving asylum to exiled writers when he was attacked, and said recently that he believed his life was “very normal again”.

On Saturday, district attorney Jason Schmidt alleged that Rushdie’s accused attacker took steps to purposely put himself in position to harm Rushdie, getting an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early bearing a fake ID. “This was a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack on Mr Rushdie,” Schmidt alleged.

Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities had taken too long to get Matar in front of a judge while leaving him “hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks”. “He has that constitutional right of presumed innocence,” Barone said.

Matar allegedly rushed on stage and stabbed Rushdie repeatedly before being tackled by spectators, institution staffers and two local law enforcement officers providing security. Meanwhile, a helicopter crew flew Rushdie to a hospital in nearby Erie, Pennsylvania.

“We are so grateful to all the audience members who bravely leapt to his defence and administrated first aid along with the police and doctors who have cared for him,” Zafar Rushdie’s statement added.

The elder Rushdie had 10 knife injuries: three stab wounds to the right front of his neck, another four to his stomach, one each to his right eye and chest and a cut to his right thigh. He emerged with a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, Wylie said on Friday evening. He was likely to lose the injured eye.

@SalmanRushdie off ventilator and talking! Continued prayers from all @chq — Michael Hill, Ed.D. (@MichaelHillCHQ) August 14, 2022

A man sharing the stage with Rushdie suffered a relatively minor facial wound during the stabbing, was treated for it and released.

The attack was met with shock and outrage from much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years has faced death threats for The Satanic Verses.

Authors, activists and government officials cited Rushdie’s courage and longtime advocacy of free speech despite the risks to his own safety. Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan called Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists across the world”, and actor-author Kal Penn cited him as a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora toward whom he’s shown incredible warmth”.

Zafar Rushdie’s statement Sunday said his family was “thankful for the outpouring of love and support from around the world”.

A motive for the attack appears to be unclear. The suspect was born a decade after The Satanic Verses was published.

Barone, the public defender, said after Saturday’s hearing that Matar, from Fairview, New Jersey, had been communicating openly with him and that he would spend the coming weeks trying to learn about his client, including whether he has psychological or addiction issues.

Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told the Associated Press.

Flags of the Iran-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah are visible across the village, along with portraits of leader Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Iran Ali Khamenei, Khomeini and slain Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

Journalists visiting Yaroun on Saturday were asked to leave. Hezbollah spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

Iran’s theocratic government and its state-run media assigned no motive for the attack. In Tehran, some Iranians praised the attack on an author they believe tarnished the Islamic faith, while others worried it would further isolate their country.