Opinion: I saw the terrifying attack by Salman Rushdie, a man who lives with danger and chooses to thrive

Minutes later, Rushdie and Henry Reese take the stage, ready to discuss the United States as an asylum for writers and other artists in exile as part of the Chautauqua lecture series. The audience stands up in applause. I realize Rushdie will be sitting with his back to me, so I move around to get a better view, starting down the middle aisle to an empty third-row seat just as the two take their places.

Before I take mine, however, a man leaps onto the stage, hate on two feet, storming Rushdie with lightning speed. The author stands and backs up to escape him, but his black suit and polished shoes are unprepared for the young man in sneakers, his head shrouded like a ninja, an unnamed cyclone of fury.

Rushdie bends and twists but the knife is relentless, the arm rising and falling again and again, avoiding the hands of the perpetrator and those trying to intervene. The crowd, gathered at a stadium where civil speech has been practiced for more than 130 years, watches, frozen not in fear but in shock. After what seems like an eternity, but I later learn it was only seconds, the attacker is shot by a few men and a state trooper. Rushdie and Reese both fell. Pools of blood on stage. A man walks past me, filming the chaos on his phone.

“These are not good days for freedom. If you look around the world, you see that the idea of ​​freedom, a freedom that contains a sense of recklessness, seems everywhere in retreat, hunted down by guns and bombs,” Mr Rushdie said. an audience at Emory University in 2015.

How ironic that her attacker moved through tree-lined streets where children run free until the chimes of a steeple remind them it’s time for dinner, where the bikes are unlocked and the wallets are often returned with the money intact. It’s a place where people let their guard down, too easily. That’s part of the charm, but in the days to come, we’ll surely tackle that.

The crowd is mostly silent except for the erratic shouting that some can’t, yet do. The attacker is finally subdued and the police dog stands over him. I wonder if it’s macabre to take a picture of the scene right now. But the ghoul is already there, I decide. Rushdie is still lying on his back; someone took his shoes off his feet and put them neatly next to him, waiting for him to fill them again. Nobody else can.

I can’t get back on my bike for shaking, so I walk back. The sirens howl.

Around noon, The New York Times reported that Rushdie was stabbed in the neck, with another witness saying he still had a pulse before he was airlifted to hospital. I am amazed and relieved that he survived. When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s supreme leader, called for his death in 1989, the author went into hiding, but continued to write his complex and wacky books. He says he has to write to survive or his dreams get crazier and crazier. While waiting for news, I wonder how much a dream can be crazier than that, more nightmarish than a fairy tale.

The text messages flow: “Are you there?” “Is it true?” A friend told me she attended a dinner with Rushdie in February and remembers him saying he was pretty sure someone, somewhere would have it. Who knew that could happen in this utopian summer community, which tries to fight dissent in the world through conversation. Words weren’t enough today.

Later that afternoon, Andrew Wylie, Rushdie’s agent, reports that he is in surgery but has no further updates.
Opinion:

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist,” Rushdie said. In Manhattan, where he now lives, he often appears in public without security. “Oh, I have to live my life,” he told an interviewer last year.

I begin to re-read Rushdie’s writings, seeing how he seeks to prove that our differences don’t define us, a common thread running through my own work. In his words: “It may be the curse of the human race. Not that we are different from each other, but we are so similar.”

remember the terror

“Are you OK?” reads the text string. “Not really,” I reply. We meet, hug, walk the streets covered in fresh autumn leaves, document emergency vehicles, crime scene tape.

Everywhere we go, people are gathered on porches, refreshing the news on their phones, waiting to hear about Rushdie’s condition. It’s a beautiful day, the sun with that almost autumnal golden hue that casts a long shadow. Like September 11, we say. We will all remember where we were that day.

Hours later, Rushdie is still in surgery. The world is waiting. The name of his attacker is known. He purchased a pass to access the grounds of the Chautauqua facility.

Here I am in a video posted on Twitter, standing in front of the attack in a striped shirt, on my phone. I remember I dialed 911. I didn’t know what else to do. I realize that I still don’t.

That night, his agent says he was discharged from surgery, but “the news isn’t good.” He is on a ventilator. The nerves in his arm were severed, his liver stabbed and damaged. And he might lose an eye. Is this really the civilized world? When I think of the terror of that day, I think of living with that danger and choosing to thrive. It’s a choice we all have to make now. Pray – or whatever gesture you make to your god – for him. Pray for peace. Pray for all of us.

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