Salman Rushdie, the acclaimed author who was hospitalized on Friday with serious injuries after being repeatedly stabbed during a public appearance in New York state, is off a ventilator and his condition is improving, his agent said on Sunday.
“He’s off the ventilator, so the road to recovery has begun,” his agent, Andrew Wylie, wrote in an email to Reuters. “It will be long; the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction.”
Rushdie, 75, was set to deliver a lecture on artistic freedom at Chautauqua Institution in western New York when police allege a 24-year-old man rushed the stage and stabbed him.
The Indian-born writer has lived with a bounty on his head since his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses prompted Iran to urge Muslims to kill him. Amid the death threats, he spent nine years in hiding under a British government protection program in the 1990s.
The suspect in the attack, Hadi Matar of Fairview, N.J., pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault at a court appearance on Saturday, his court-appointed lawyer, Nathaniel Barone, told Reuters.
Following hours of surgery, Rushdie had been put on a ventilator and was unable to speak as of Friday evening, Wylie said in a prior update on the novelist’s condition, adding that he was likely to lose an eye and had nerve damage in his arm and wounds to his liver.
Wylie did not provide further details on Rushdie’s health in his email on Sunday.
“Though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact,” Rushdie’s son Zafar Rushdie said in a Sunday statement that stressed the author remained in critical condition.
The statement on behalf of the family also expressed gratitude for the “audience members who bravely leapt to his defence,” as well as police, doctors and “the outpouring of love and support from around the world.”
Writers, politicians condemn assault
The stabbing was condemned by writers and politicians around the world as an assault on freedom of expression. In a statement on Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden commended the “universal ideals” of truth, courage and resilience embodied by Rushdie and his work.
“These are the building blocks of any free and open society,” Biden said.
Writer and longtime friend Ian McEwan labelled Rushdie “an inspirational defender of persecuted writers and journalists” and actor-author Kal Penn called him a role model “for an entire generation of artists, especially many of us in the South Asian diaspora.”
Neither local nor federal authorities offered any additional details on the investigation on Saturday. Police said on Friday they had not established a motive for the attack.
An initial law enforcement review of Matar’s social media accounts showed he was sympathetic to Shia extremism and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), although no definitive links had been found, according to NBC New York.
Iran newspapers praise attack
Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family and has lived in Britain and the U.S., is known for his surreal and satirical prose, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel Midnight’s Children, in which he sharply criticized India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi.
Infused with magical realism, The Satanic Verses drew ire from some Muslims who regarded elements of the novel as blasphemy.
On Sunday, Iran’s state-run newspaper, Iran Daily, praised the attack on the author as an “implementation of divine decree.” Another hardline newspaper, Kayhan, termed it “divine revenge” that would partially calm the anger of Muslims.