The mother of the man accused of leaping onstage to attack author Salman Rushdie condemned her son on Sunday, saying he was responsible for his own actions and that his family would be moving on “without him.”
Born Muslim in Lebanon, Silvana Fardos has been in the U.S. for more than 25 years, she told the Daily Mail. She’d never heard of Salman Rushdie before getting a frantic phone call from her daughter on Friday, she said.
“I never read any of his books,” the 46-year-old told the paper. “I didn’t know that such a writer even exists. I had no knowledge that my son ever read his book.”
Fardos said she was “shell-shocked” by the news that her son, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, had been arrested after allegedly rushing the stage of the Chautauqua Institution, stabbing Rushdie in the abdomen and neck before being subdued.
Rushdie, a 75-year-old British-Indian writer, has been living with a target on his back since 1988, when he published The Satanic Verses. The book scandalized some Muslims, who took great offense with how Rushdie fictionalized aspects of the Prophet Muhammad’s life.
Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who was to die a year later, issued a call to all Muslims—also known as a fatwa—to kill the author. After years spent in hiding and under a false identity, Rushdie moved to New York and began to appear in public more often, increasingly without a security detail.
Immediately after the Friday attack, Rushdie was whisked away to a hospital, where he was placed on a ventilator. (His condition has since markedly improved, according to those close to him.) Matar was charged with attempted murder in the second degree and assault in the second degree. He has pleaded not guilty.
“I just cannot believe he was capable of doing something like this,” said Fardos, who works as a teacher and translator. “He was very quiet, everyone loved him. As I said to the FBI, I’m not going to bother talking to him again. He’s responsible for his actions.”
Fardos did note that, in 2018, her son had returned from a month-long trip to Lebanon a changed person. Sent to visit his father, whom Fardos divorced in 2004, he was miserable. She thought he would return home motivated—“to complete school, to get his degree and a job.”
“But instead,” Fardos said, “he locked himself in the basement.” There, she said he lived a nocturnal and isolated existence, cooking his own meals and barely speaking to his mother or his siblings. Although she said she had no idea what her son was doing down there, she sensed that his religious beliefs were becoming more radical.
“One time he argued with me asking why I encouraged him to get an education instead of focusing on religion,” said Fardos, who said she was neither very political nor religious. “He was angry that I did not introduce him to Islam from a young age.”
In recent months, though, Matar seemed like he was attempting to return to life, she said. He had begun working at a Marshalls and had talked about going back to school to study cybersecurity, Fardos recalled. She was elated.
Then FBI agents materialized at her home in Fairview, New Jersey. Now, she said, she wanted to focus on her two younger children. “They are upset, they’re shocked,” Fardos told the Mail. “All we can do is try to move on from this, without him.”
Earlier on Sunday, Rushdie’s son shared a statement on his father’s condition. “Though his life changing injuries are severe, his usual feisty & defiant sense of humour remains intact,” Zafar Rushdie wrote.
— Zafar Rushdie (@ZafRushdie) August 14, 2022
Rushdie’s agent told The Guardian on Sunday that though the 75-year-old had been taken off a ventilator was “headed in the right direction,” his injuries—10 stab wounds to his neck, stomach, eye, chest, and thigh—were “severe.” The road to recovery, the agent added, “will be long.”
In a Sunday statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken struck a fiercer tone than President Joe Biden’s comments the day before, which did not mention Iranian politics or the fatwa on Rushdie’s head.
In addition to calling the attack “heinous” and its celebration by Iranian state-backed media outlets “despicable,” Blinken directly accused the “pernicious” Iranian state of urging violence against Rushdie “for generations.”
“The United States and partners will not waver in our determination to stand up to these threats, using every appropriate tool at our disposal,” Blinken said.
Separately, U.K. authorities announced the launch of an investigation into an online threat lobbed at author J.K. Rowling, who had expressed disgust and sadness at the news of Rushdie’s assault.
“Horrifying news,” she posted to Twitter. “Feeling very sick right now. Let him be OK.”
In her replies, a user with the screen name @MeerAsifAziz1 wrote: “Don’t worry you are next.”
By Sunday evening, The New York Times reported, the tweet had been deleted, and @MeerAsifAziz1’s account suspended.