Zainub Priya Dala – whose debut novel What about Meera was due to be launched at the festival on Human Rights Day – was attacked after a Time of the Writer event in which she expressed her admiration for Salman Rushdie’s writing style, in Chatsworth, Durban.
After she made the remark, a number of teachers and their learners walked out of the event. Dala’s vehicle was forced off the road by three men in a car the next day. A knife was held to her throat, and she was hit in the face with a brick, while her attackers called her “Rushdie’s bitch”.
A Durban-based advocacy group, South African Muslim Network (Samnet), condemned the attack in a pictograph that it mass circulated on various social media platforms, including Facebook and Whatsapp.
“Samnet unequivocally condemns the attack on Zainub Priya Dala,” the pictograph stated. “This intolerance is an antithesis of the teachings of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
“The assailants should be ashamed of themselves. If they are under the illusion that they are defending some Islamic principles or position they are sorely mistaken in this regard [and] are in serious need of education on Islamic law and values and the teachings and principles of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).”
‘No basis for attack’
This was notwithstanding Salman Rushdie’s views on Islam, the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad, Samnet chairperson Faisal Suliman told the Mail & Guardian: “There is no basis in Islamic teachings for the kangaroo style attack on Zainub Dala – this further enhances the stereotype of Muslims being violent and intolerant and further undermines the good work and the peaceful life of coexistence led by the vast majority of Muslims all over the world.”
Various Muslim writers also expressed their shock at the incident. “I find it utterly reprehensible that this can happen in this day and age and in this country where more than anything we are supposed to have learnt the constructive importance of respecting the diversity of opinion and people,” said author Shubnum Khan. “It’s our personal freedom to say what we want without fearing for our lives.”
“It’s such sickening intolerance and the fact that it culminated in physical violence, towards a woman no less, is horrific … I hope this incident creates more discussion about the kind of intolerance we are cultivating in our societies, because something like this is just totally unacceptable.” Cape-based journalist Shafiq Morton described the incident as ‘a despicable act of cowardly urban terror’, and a ‘total violation of Dala’s constitutional rights’.
“While a person may harbour misgivings, and even hurt, about the content of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, nothing can ever justify intimidation and assault as a response to it,” he said.
“Writers drink from many sources – Ms Dala also cited Arundhati Roi – and to isolate one influence is to insult the integrity of the author. The dangerous assumption is that because the author was influenced stylistically by Rushdie, she automatically endorses his choice of subject matter.”