At Chautauqua, an institution dedicated to ideas shattered by the horrific attack of Salman Rushdie


An amphitheater at the Chautauqua facility, where Salman Rushdie was attacked on August 12, 2022.BRENDAN BANNON/New York Times Press Service

Catherine Pead and her husband have been coming to Chautauqua every summer for 20 years. What brings the couple from Hamilton, Ontario to the small lakeside community in upstate New York each year is the Chautauqua Institution – a quiet, gated retreat where writers, artists, politicians and opinion leaders come together to discuss religious, social and political issues. .

“When you hear about so many divisions in the United States, you come to Chautauqua and you feel like this is what America could be,” said Ms. Pead, who is a semi-retired community organizer. and a nursing assistant.

But the peace at the facility, located about 90 kilometers southwest of Buffalo, was shattered on Friday. Salman Rushdie, an Indian-born British-American author whose work enraged the Iranian government for nearly four decades, was stabbed repeatedly as he took the stage for a discussion about the United States as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile, and as a home for freedom of creative expression.

The acclaimed 75-year-old author satanic verses – a novel that was seen by many Muslims as blasphemous and led Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa calling for the deaths of Mr Rushdie and his publishers in 1989 – remained hospitalized on Saturday after hours of ‘operation. He suffered from a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye.

On Saturday evening, his agent, Andrew Wylie, said Mr Rushdie had been taken off a ventilator and was able to speak.

Event moderator Henry Reese, 73, suffered a facial injury. He was treated and released from a hospital on Friday evening, police said.

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Ms Pead, 65, and her husband were sitting in the audience, about 20 rows back, when a man approached the edge of the stage where Mr Rushdie was sitting and leaned over him. At first glance, Ms Pead said she thought the man was saying something to Mr Rushdie, but the scene quickly turned violent.

The details of what happened next were difficult for Ms Pead to relate, which left her choked up. Ms Pead said Mr Rushdie started raising his hands in defense and then saw the man slashing his hands and face savagely. She also saw the moment the man stabbed Mr Rushdie in the throat. Chaos ensued, she said, then Mr Rushdie stumbled away from the scene and a swarm of people rushed to subdue the attacker.

On Saturday, Hadi Matar, 24, of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault in the attack. A judge ordered that Mr. Matar be held without bail.

Outside the Chautauqua Institution in the Main Square in New York on August 13, 2022.Jake Kivanc/The Globe and Mail

Within the grounds of Chautauqua, described by many who participated in its programming as an adult day camp, life began to return to normal. The entrance was again inundated with cars and people, all attempting to secure access to the grounds or acquire parking, but only seasonal and weekly pass holders were permitted entry. Day passes were no longer available due to the incident.

That evening, the institution’s president, Michael Hall, opened a performance by the Washington Ballet and Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, which performed in the same amphitheater where Mr Rushdie had been attacked the day before, with a moment of prayer and the promise to stand firm against terror.

“Sometimes we process emotions that are so complex and difficult that we don’t have a way to process them yet,” Mr Hall told a crowd of hundreds who gave a standing ovation at several points during his speech. .

“May the majesty of the dancers and the soaring music of the orchestra recover and bless this sacred gathering space. May their artistry serve as an expression of our continued prayers for Mr. Rushdie and Mr. Reese.

Audience members fill the amphitheater at the Chautauqua Institution on August 13, 2022 for a performance by the Washington Ballet and the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.Jake Kivanc/The Globe and Mail

The institution’s campus, which is approximately 2,000 acres in size, includes a range of buildings used for various educational and entertainment purposes. Attendees pay between hundreds and thousands of dollars for weekly passes that give them access to some of its annual nine-week summer programming. The most dedicated Chautauqua followers pay a season pass, which costs nearly US$3,000 for admission.

Some of the people who witnessed the stabbings noted a lack of security measures at Mr. Rushdie’s site. They expressed surprise that there were no metal detectors or pat-downs before attending an event with a speaker who had an international bounty on his head.

“The abuser may have perceived this as a sore point because it’s not public,” said Paul Evans, who traveled from California to attend the institution’s nine-week program, which he and his wife have been doing for the past 12 years.

But despite these concerns, Mr Evans said the last thing people visiting the retreat want is for it to turn into a fortress.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of administration people talking about coulda, woulda, shoulda, so it’s not for us to say, but I don’t just want to come back next year and find out that we have metal detectors.

Those staying at the retreat gathered Friday night for a vigil featuring speakers from various faiths and Mr Hall.

“What we experienced in Chautauqua today is unlike anything in our 150 year history,” Mr Hall told the crowd.

“It was an act of violence, an act of hate and a violation of one of the things we have always cherished most: the safety and tranquility of our grounds and our ability to convene the most important conversations, even if these conversations are difficult.”

The attack drew condemnation from people around the world, including in Canada.

Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he met the award-winning novelist during a visit to Canada 30 years ago.

“I was proud to welcome Salman Rushdie to Ontario 30 years ago. As a long-time supporter of PEN, I was happy to join his friends in celebrating his courage. It’s even more important today that we support free speech and show our solidarity and support for Salman,” he tweeted.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wished Mr. Rushdie a speedy recovery.

“The cowardly attack on Salman Rushdie is an attack on free speech that our world relies on,” Trudeau said in a statement on Twitter.

“No one should be threatened or harmed based on what he wrote.”

With an Associated Press report

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