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Hochul says state, Institution ‘will stand with courage’

OBSERVER Photo by Michael Zabrodsky County Executive PJ Wendell speaks at Chautauqua.

CHAUTAUQUA — “A man with a knife did not silence a man with a pen.”

That is what Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a press conference Sunday at the Hall of Philosophy.

She said as governor of New York, the state will always stand up, protect freedom of expression, and freedom of speech.

Hochul was at Chautauqua in response to the attack Friday on author Salman Rushdie by a 24-year-old New Jersey man before Rushdie’s planned morning lecture.

“We condemn the cowardly attack on Salman Rushdie. And we condemn any individual or any group that dare violate the same thing in a place like Chautauqua or to an attempt an assassination on a world leader. That cannot happen. We will stand with courage,” she said.

OBSERVER Photo by Michael Zabrodsky Governor Hochul speaks at the Hall of Philosophy

She said Chautauqua is a place that not only values dialogue, but values freedom of speech and freedom of thought.

“This place exists because of those values. And I’m just here to tell you it will exist for the next 150 years founded on those values as well,” she said.

The governor said whether on the streets of Buffalo or Rochester, or whether in small towns or the buroughs of New York City, there has to be a call to end violence.

“It is a challenging world. And to the young people I say, sometimes it can be scary.

“But this is the United States of America. This is the state of New York. We are a proud people. We’re proud to have an institution that fosters these ideals makes us proud of them shares this knowledge because this is common to our DNA to speak up to speak up loudly,” she said.

Hochul noted that tolerance will prevail over hate, courage will prevail over fear and “the pen will always prevail over the knife.”

Chautauqua President Michael E. Hill echoed her thoughts.

“As I’ve said over the past few days, we need to find a way to transform hate into empathy, to reach out to each other in that place that we all share in place of humanity,” Hill said.

County Executive PJ Wendel said that Chautauquans who witnessed the event became heroes Friday. People left their seats and offered help.

“They stopped what could have been world history. And they were part of that,” Wendel said.

The news of the event is being heard all the county, the state and the world.

“It is disappointing that we live in a society where we cannot listen to the differences of others, especially in a place like the institution where thinkers, problem solvers from around the world come to share their stories,” he said.

There will also be increased police presence on the institution grounds until the end of the season.

Hill said the season will continue and he will “complete the important conversations slated for the rest of our season and beyond.”

The attack was met with shock and outrage from much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years has faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.”

President Joe Biden said Saturday in a statement that he and first lady Jill Biden were “shocked and saddened” by the attack.

“Salman Rushdie — with his insight into humanity, with his unmatched sense for story, with his refusal to be intimidated or silenced — stands for essential, universal ideals,” the statement read. “Truth. Courage. Resilience. The ability to share ideas without fear. These are the building blocks of any free and open society.”

Rushdie, a native of India who has since lived in Britain and the U.S., is known for his surreal and satirical prose style, beginning with his Booker Prize-winning 1981 novel “Midnight’s Children,” in which he sharply criticized India’s then-prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

“The Satanic Verses” drew death threats after it was published in 1988, with many Muslims regarding as blasphemy a dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Rushdie’s book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death in 1989.

Khomeini died that same year, but the fatwa remains in effect. Iran’s current supreme leader, Khamenei, never issued a fatwa of his own withdrawing the edict, though Iran in recent years hasn’t focused on the writer.

]Investigators were working to determine whether the suspect, born a decade after “The Satanic Verses” was published, acted alone.

District Attorney Jason Schmidt alluded to the fatwa as a potential motive in arguing against bail.

“Even if this court were to set a million dollars bail, we stand a risk that bail could be met,” Schmidt said.

“His resources don’t matter to me. We understand that the agenda that was carried out (Friday) is something that was adopted and it’s sanctioned by larger groups and organizations well beyond the jurisdictional borders of Chautauqua County,” the prosecutor said.

Nathanial Barone, county public defender, said after the hearing that Matar has been communicating openly with him and that he would spend the coming weeks trying to learn about his client, including whether he has psychological or addiction issues.

Matar is from Fairview, N.J., and born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, the mayor of the village, Ali Tehfe, told The Associated Press.

Chautauqua’s programs on Sunday continued as planned, according to a post on Facebook. On Saturday, the 2 p.m. Community Issues Forum and 4 p.m. Chamber Music performance had been canceled “to give the community and staff time to restore and regroup.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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