Before standing trial, the man charged in the stabbing of “The Satanic Verses” author Salman Rushdie can seek material related to Rushdie’s forthcoming memoir, which details the 2022 attempt on the writer’s life, a New York judge ruled Wednesday.
Jury selection in Hadi Matar’s trial on charges of attempted murder and assault was originally scheduled to begin Jan. 8 , but the trial is now on hold.
Matar’s defense attorney Nathaniel Barone argued Tuesday that his client was entitled by law to see the manuscript, due out in April, and related material before standing trial. Written or recorded statements about the attack made by any witness are considered potential evidence, lawyers said.
“It’s not just the book,” Barone said Tuesday. “Every little note Rushdie wrote down, I get, I’m entitled to. Every discussion, every recording, anything he did in regard to this book.”
Rushdie, 75, suffered liver damage and was left blinded in his right eye and with a damaged left hand as a result of being stabbed more than a dozen times in western New York in August 2022. The author announced in October that he had written about the attack in a memoir: “Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder,” which is available for pre-order. Trial preparation was already underway when the attorneys involved in the case became aware of Rushdie’s forthcoming memoir.
Chautauqua County Dist. Atty. Jason Schmidt said Rushdie’s representatives had declined the prosecutor’s request for a copy of the manuscript, citing intellectual property rights. Schmidt dismissed the relevance of the book to the trial, arguing that the attack was witnessed by a large in-person audience and that Rushdie himself was able to testify. “There were recordings” of the attack, Schmidt said Tuesday.
Schmidt added Wednesday that the postponement would “not change the outcome.” Barone is expected to subpoena the material.
Matar, 26, who lived in Fairview, N.J., has been held without bail since his arrest immediately after Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed in front of the stunned audience at the Chautauqua Institution, a summer arts and education retreat in western New York where the author was scheduled to give a lecture on artistic freedom.
Rushdie, who could testify at the trial, spent years in hiding after the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 edict, a fatwa, calling for his death after publication of the novel “The Satanic Verses,” which some Muslims consider blasphemous. Over the last two decades, Rushdie has traveled freely.
A motive for the 2022 attack has not been disclosed. Matar, in a jailhouse interview with the New York Post after his arrest, praised Khomeini and said Rushdie had “attacked Islam, attacked their beliefs, the belief system.” He was tight-lipped as to whether Khomeini had inspired him, citing a warning by his defense attorney, the outlet said.
“I respect the ayatollah. I think he’s a great person. That’s as far as I will say about that,” Matar told the Post, noting that he only “read a couple pages” of “The Satanic Verses” but that he “didn’t like” the author.
Last year, Rushdie announced that “Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder” was set to be released in the U.S. by Penguin Random House on April 16, saying at the time, “This was a necessary book for me to write: a way to take charge of what happened, and to answer violence with art.”
“Speaking out for the first time, and in unforgettable detail, about the traumatic events of August 12, 2022, Salman Rushdie answers violence with art, and reminds us of the power of words to make sense of the unthinkable,” reads Penguin Random House’s official synopsis of the upcoming book. “‘Knife’ is a gripping, intimate, and ultimately life-affirming meditation on life, loss, love, art — and finding the strength to stand up again.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.