When Emily Sack saw a young man throw himself at writer Salman Rushdie, she barely realized in a panic that the writer was being stabbed.
Like many residents of the Chautauqua Institution — a kind of university for seniors in a gigantic park on the shores of superb Chautauqua Lake in upstate New York — Emily Sack remains groggya week after the fact.
“It went so fast. It was almost over before it started, ”breathes to AFP this octogenarian who was quietly seated in the partially open-air amphitheater on the morning of August 12.
She was waiting there for the literary conference of the author of satanic verses when it was attacked by Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old American of Lebanese origin living in New Jersey, an attempted murder that caused outrage in the West.
After the attack, the Chautauqua Institution “cancelled everything for the rest of the day” and “everyone here, including me, came out of it completely depressed,” says Ms.me Sack, tears in his eyes.
The Chautauqua Institution aims to be a beacon of “diversity” and of the cultural, community and religious life of the northern United States, a stone’s throw from the great Lake Erie on the border with Canada.
Founded in 1874 by two Methodist Protestants, it has become a renowned place for activities and exchanges in the arts, human sciences, education, religion…
President Franklin Roosevelt made a famous speech there in August 1936 on his “hatred” of war.
This non-profit organization claims during its summer festival 100,000 visitors and residents — the majority of whom are seniors — who wander on foot and by bicycle in what looks like a community village protected by a perimeter fence, beautifully maintained streets, colonial houses and gardens, with its own library, shops, police and postal service.
” Outside world “
“It’s obviously a shock to our whole community, to the whole region and to anyone who knows the Chautauqua Institution. We’ve been here for almost 150 years and we’ve never had to go through anything like this, ”said Emily Morris, the center’s vice-president, with a lump in her throat and suppressing sobs.
“It’s unfortunate that we were affected by the outside world,” even said a resident, on condition of anonymity.
Because in the small county of Chautauqua and its tiny county town of Mayville, where Hadi Matar appeared in court on Thursday after being charged with “attempted murder” and “assault”, no one imagined that this pretty quiet corner of the region of Great Lakes suffered an attack with international repercussions.
Local prosecutor Jason Schmidt, who is investigating the case of the attack on Mr. Rushdie – targeted since 1989 by a death sentence contained in a fatwa from the Iranian Guide – admitted to the press that his “small” jurisdiction “had no not have the shoulders to handle such a case, which the federal police are also investigating. »
Emily Sack also replies that she had “never thought before that this could happen” in Chautauqua.
Barbara Warner, of the same age, a regular at the Chautauqua Institution, laments that “these things, which are happening all over the country […]unfortunately also arrive” in the cultural center.
” Safe “
David Wilson is also “in shock”, but a week later he still feels “safe” to enjoy the last activities of the summer at the Chautauqua Institution.
The center has come under fire from the US press for the apparent lack of safety measures for a host such as Salman Rushdie, who is slowly recovering in a hospital in lakeside Erie.
Vice President Emily Morris said she has implemented the detection of metal objects and the prohibition of bags in the amphitheater.
A few guards actually patrol around the amphitheater, entry to which is strictly controlled.
While the protection around Salman Rushdie had greatly eased in the twenty years that he had lived in the United States, “we obviously would not have [organisé] such an event if we did not think we had measures [de sécurité] adequate,” defends Ms. Morris.