Attack on Salman Rushdie reminds us that the pen is mightier than the knife: Gov. Hochul

Editor's note: The following was adapted from remarks given by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul at the Chautauqua Institution on Sunday after Friday's stabbing of author Salman Rushdie, who was to speak at the institution.

As a young girl, I remember visiting the Chautauqua Institution, an hour’s drive from my hometown of Buffalo. My dad worked at the steel plant and we didn't have a lot of money – in fact, we couldn't afford to pay admission to drive through the institution’s front gate. We used to pile in the station wagon after church on Sundays and come to Chautauqua in the hopes that one day we’d be able to visit that extraordinary place. Because for those of us in western New York, the Chautauqua Institution is an iconic site.

Founded on the principles of education, freedom of expression and inclusion, it represents the values we are most proud of in New York. It is a place where people believe in the vigorous exploration of ideals and philosophies and study religion and politics – a place known for its healing, its tranquility, its harmony.

Chilling symbolism of attacking Rushdie

But this past Friday, that tranquility was shattered. An individual hell-bent on silencing these sacred ideals viciously attacked the author Salman Rushdie, a man who has lived under threat for decades for speaking truth to power. For an individual like Mr. Rushdie, who has lived the consequences of a crackdown on free speech and free expression, the chilling symbolism of a violent attack at this site – a place known for welcoming great thinkers to share thoughts freely and openly – is undeniable.

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Author Salman Rushdie, 75, is getting treatment in a Pennsylvania hospital for severe stabbing wounds. His literary agent, Andrew Wylie, has said that Rushdie has a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm, and could lose an eye. Rushdie’s life has been in jeopardy since 1989 when Iran’s supreme leader at the time, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued an edict demanding his death over his novel “The Satanic Verses,” which was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims.

I want to send a message loud and clear to any individual or any group that dare violate the sanctity of a place like Chautauqua: A man with a knife cannot silence a man with a pen.

New York state will always stand up to protect freedom of expression, freedom of speech – and we condemn the cowardly attack on Salman Rushdie. We condemn any individual or any group that dare violate the sanctity of a place like Chautauqua or to an attempt at assassination on a world leader. That cannot happen in New York. We're standing up, and we will stand with courage.

Sadly, Mr. Rushdie’s attack is not the first time in the last three months that the spotlight of the world has been focused on western New York. On May 14, a white supremacist radicalized on social media traveled three hours to commit a mass shooting at a supermarket that’s about a 10-minute drive from the house where my husband and I live. And once again, this attacker’s choice of location was chilling: This young man went online and found the closest place with the largest concentration of Black people who he could kill and harm in a racist attack.

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In the immediate aftermath of that cowardly, violent attack, New York took action. We passed gun safety legislation banning the purchase of semiautomatic rifles by anyone under the age of 21, making it illegal to purchase body armor for anyone not engaged in a law enforcement profession, and requiring microstamping of bullets to track criminal gun use.

Wisdom is mightier than ignorance

We formed a specialized unit in our state police to focus on domestic terrorism. We created the Interstate Task Force on Illegal Guns, a first in the nation initiative designed to share best practices and ensure our law enforcement on every level of government is working together. We required social media platforms to report hateful and threatening social media content online, so we can see what's happening before the next attack happens. And we closed critical gun loopholes and strengthened our "red flag" laws to keep guns away from dangerous people.

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It takes courage to stand up to hate, violence and intolerance. So it’s fitting that “courage” was the topic of discussion at the Chautauqua Institution the week that Mr. Rushdie was attacked. He spent a decade of his life in hiding, and finally he decided to come out of the shadows. His courage in the face of such danger should inspire all New Yorkers – and all freedom-loving people across the globe. It has inspired me to use every tool at my disposal, including my voice, to call out this radicalization that's going on, to call out anyone who perpetrates violence, whether they're a high-profile individual or someone in the streets of big cities or small towns.

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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul

It is a challenging world. To many 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 proud people. We are proud to have an institution that fosters these ideals and shares this knowledge. This is common to our DNA to speak up, to speak up loudly and say with one clear voice that wisdom is mightier than ignorance. Tolerance is mightier than hate. Courage is mightier than fear.

And the pen will always be mightier than the knife.

Kathy Hochul is the 57th governor of New York. This adaptation of the governor's remarks first published in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Salman Rushdie attack reminds that ideas trump violence: Kathy Hochul