Rushdie brings terror to an idyllic retreat from stabbing to earnest interrogation

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Over the past week, life at the Chautauqua Institution continued as it had for 148 summers.

Adults end the days by attending church, playing badminton, taking pottery classes, and listening to music on the shores of the picturesque western New York lake. The children participated in the camp and roamed freely even after sunset.

Why would the thousands of families inside the 750-acre gated complex suspect that there was an attacker among them?

Then on Friday morning, a knife-wielding man stormed the stage as writer Salman Rushdie prepared to talk about the United States as a safe haven for exiled writers.

The attacker repeatedly stabbed Mr Rushdie, bled the stage of an amphitheater, the central stage in one of America’s most storied spiritual and cultural retreats.

Mr Rushdie was hospitalized after being placed on a ventilator the night before, with wounds to an eye, arm and his liver, which prosecutors said were 10 stab wounds. New York State Police have identified the suspect in the attack as Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man who was arrested after being slammed to the ground by bystanders. he was accused with attempted murder of the second degree and was arrested on Saturday afternoon.

Officials have not indicated a motive, but in 1989 Iran’s supreme leader issued a religious order known as a fatwa, asking Muslims to kill Mr. Rushdie following the publication of his novel “The Satanic Verses”. was ordered, which some loyalists found heretical. Social media accounts linked to Mr. Matar suggest that he is a supporter of Islamic extremism.

The spasm of violence brought the ghost of Islamic terror into an American institution at the center of mainline Protestantism, which spawned a grassroots movement of earnest intellectual inquiry and self-improvement in the 1800s. The attack on Mr. Rushdie shattered a sense of widespread peace in Chautauqua, which many families felt as a rare refuge from the troubles of the modern world.

“Chautauqua feels like this escapist utopia,” said 37-year-old Gillian Weeks, a screenwriter from Santa Monica, Calif., who was there with her family and was watching a livestream of Mr. Rushdie’s incident when the attack happened. “It’s a place where children can be free and take leaps of freedom, more than anywhere else in the regular world.”

Founded in 1874 by Lewis Miller and John Heil Vincent as an educational experiment in “leisure learning”, Chautauqua began as a Methodist retreat but quickly developed into a community for other Protestant denominations as well.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the institution flourished and spawned a movement, with other Chautauqua centers developing in Colorado, Ohio, Michigan and beyond. Over the years, the institution has featured prominent writers and thinkers ranging from Mark Twain to former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Today, the Chautauqua Institute, which is about an hour south of Buffalo, remains largely unchanged from its heyday of a century ago. The manicured grounds feature lawn bowling courts and art galleries, and string quartets play in the grass outside a plush hotel.

A few hundred residents live on the grounds year-round, and the population swells during the nine-week summer season, when homeowners and guests flock to the institution for a feast of cultural programming, ranging from Sheryl Crow to Ballet Hispanico. Huh. Mr. Rushdie was the featured speaker for the lecture at 10:45 a.m. Friday.

Although Mr Rushdie lived in a fortified safe house in London for 10 years after the price was put on his head, he has been visible in public for many years, often with minimal security.

Moments after Mr. Rushdie took the stage on Friday, the attacker ran down a corridor of the amphitheater, pushing the shocked guests aside. The attacker faced no apparent resistance as he took the stage and began stabbing Mr. Rushdie, who was sitting and waiting for the conversation to begin.

As the attack unfolded, members of the audience rushed to the stage and separated the attacker from Mr. Rushdie. A New York State police officer eventually arrived at the scene and handcuffed the attacker.

As Mr Rushdie lay covered in blood on the stage, doctors in the audience pressed on his wounds and called doctors. He was eventually taken by helicopter to a hospital in Erie, Pa.

Security is minimal at Chautauqua Institute. While all visitors to the community must have a pass to enter the grounds during the summer, which costs at least $200 for two days, there is little police presence inside the complex. Most events feature yellow-shirted “community security officers” who are unarmed, while some high-profile events have a uniformed officer on site.

But even in the main amphitheater, which regularly hosts popular concerts and famous speakers, there are no bag checks or metal detectors.

More than a dozen eyewitnesses said they were stunned by the ease with which the attackers reached Mr Rushdie.

John Bullett, 85, said: “There was a major security lapse. One can get so close without anyone’s intervention.”

Another eyewitness, 57-year-old Anita Ayerbe, said police were slow to respond. “The arena is an easy target,” she said. “There was no clear security at the site, and he fled fearlessly. The policemen were not on the stage earlier. ,

Chuck Koch, a lawyer from Van Wert, Ohio, who owns a home in Chautauqua, was sitting in the second row when the assault began and ran to the stage for help.

“I remember when ‘The Satanic Verses’ came out and a fatwa was put on it,” he said. Nonetheless, “the only security I saw was a sheriff outside the gate. There was no security in sight under the stage.”

In recent years, some former Chautauqua employees have called on management to implement tighter security, including bag checks, metal detectors and closer screening in the amphitheater, according to two people familiar with the discussion, who sought to divulge sensitive information. Anonymity was requested for. He said the officials had rejected the suggestions for fear of disrupting the peaceful atmosphere of the community.

Michael Hill, president of the Chautauqua Institution, disputed the suggestion that management had resisted calls for increased security.

“There has been no protest or refusal to listen to the advice of experts on what we think is about securing Chautauqua,” he said in an interview on Saturday.

Mr Hill said the institution strives to provide security while providing peace that encourages relaxed reflection and thought.

Mr Hill said, “The only way to guarantee nothing happens in Chautauqua is to shut it down completely and make it a full police state, and that is, in essence, what we do at Chautauqua.” Will make him irrelevant.” “I can’t believe that making the place with a smaller army was going to change what happened.”

The security chief of the Chautauqua Institution retired last year, and the job remained unfinished. But Mr Hill said his staff consulted with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state police and county sheriffs this year to discuss potential threats and added security to Mr Rushdie’s conversation on Friday.

“The questions of security were important and important to us even before yesterday,” said Mr. Hill. “Naturally, after what happened yesterday, we will continue to investigate what was so inexplicable.”

Spent several days walking in Mr. Pea’s field Before Mr Rushdie attacked the Chautauqua Institute, according to several people who saw him there early Tuesday. Several guests, including Ms Ayerbe, said they had seen her in the amphitheater.

The attack shattered a sense of peace at Chautauqua, causing longtime guests to question what would happen to a retreat that seemed like a rare haven from modern life.

“We started bringing our kids here and now we bring our grandchildren,” said 72-year-old Dennis Ford, a longtime local resident. “We got a sense that this place was different from the real world. But it’s the same everywhere now, I guess.”

Given the long history of the Chautauqua Institution as an intellectual melting pot, the attack that may have been inspired by an attack on free expression was more troubling for visitors.

“It represents the better angels of our nature and is the best Western culture has to offer,” Ms Weeks said. “It’s a place where people should be able to disagree with each other. There’s a deep irony that Chautauqua is where it happened.”

In the hours following the attack, scenes of small town attractions were interspersed with reminders of violence. In the community’s main plaza, a craft fair sold yard art, as a police officer inspected backpacks with a bomb-sniffing dog. When the police searched the forest, the beach was closed and events were canceled as rumors of further dangers spread among the families.

On Friday night, Chautauqua residents gathered for a vigil at the Hall of Philosophy, a mock Roman stage not far from the amphitheater where Mr. Rushdie was stabbed. Hundreds attended, many cried, and a pastor invited attendees to express their views.

“Everyone is important in the eyes of God,” cried one voice.

“God bless Chautauqua,” said another.

“Hate can’t win.”

On Saturday morning, Mr Hill said he was more committed than ever to fulfilling the institute’s mission of creating an inclusive platform for free expression.

“We will do our soul-searching at Chautauqua,” he said. “We’re going to go back to our pulpit and our podium and keep doing that.”

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