KZN author attacked

2015-03-21 00:00

AN acclaimed author participating in the annual Time of the Writer Festival has been attacked after expressing admiration for controversial writer Salman Rushdie.

Zainub Dala says she was attacked after an interactive session in Chats­worth, Durban, during which she expressed her admiration for Rushdie’s writing style.

She said she was followed from the festival after a minor walk-out, forced off the road and pulled from her car.

Dala had a knife held to her throat and was hit in the face with a brick by two men, who called her “Rushdie’s bitch”.

Rushdie’s fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the centre of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries for its irreverent depiction of Prophet Muhammad.

In 1989, a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini — the spiritual leader of Iran at the time — calling the book “blasphemous against Islam”. A bounty was offered for Rushdie’s death, and he was forced to live under police protection for several years. On March 7, 1989, the United Kingdom and Iran broke diplomatic relations over the Rushdie controversy.

The fatwa still stands.

Dala’s publisher, Fourie Botha, said she had informed the police of the incident and sought medical care.

“She has been treated by her doctor for soft-tissue trauma, and has reported the incident to the police. A case of assault has been opened. As yet, no witnesses have come forward.”

The launch of Dala’s debut novel, What About Meera, was to be held tomorrow at the Time of the Writer festival, but the event has been cancelled.

“Dala believes that the attack occurred as a result of a comment she made during a writing forum for schools at the Chatsworth Education Centre on Tuesday morning, which featured two other writers. Dala, when asked which writers she admired, answered that she liked Salman Rushdie’s literary style, along with other writers such as Arundhati Roy. A group of teachers and learners left the forum,” Botha stated.

Steve Connolly, managing director of Penguin Random House in South Africa, Dala’s publishers, condemned the attack.

“We condemn completely the brutish attack on author Zainub Priya Dala. Have we reached such a state of intolerance that we cannot listen to one writer profess admiration for another without wanting to attack her with a brick and a knife?” he asked.

“If our Constitution is to mean anything, we must ensure our right to free speech. It is ironic that at a time when the communities of Durban are welcoming writers, some elements are attacking those writers who hold different views. We must not let this shameful and violent bigotry prevail,” Connolly said.

Police spokesperson Major Thulani Zwane said that a case of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm was registered.

Islamic scholar Mufti Ismail Menk shared in the disapproval of the attack.

“We need to promote a culture of ‘live and let live’. People, irrespective of their religious standpoint, are free to have their own inclinations and ideas, and if one disagrees with them, even as a Muslim, no one has the right to harm and attack them,” he said.

“I know so many people who have different ideas and even though I disagree with them, I respect them and their right to their opinions. She [Dala] did not harm anyone, and if people disagreed they should have engaged her in discussion. We need to deal with this intolerance.

“I was a victim in the same city when I said something which was taken out of context and seen to be blasphemous by other Muslims, so I know what she is going through. It is very unnecessary and leaves a bad taste. It does not represent the image of Muslims all around the world,” Menk added.

Tiny Mangwa, director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Creative Arts, which organised the festival, echoed the condemnation.

“Organisers of the Time of the Writer festival are fully behind writers’ right to freedom of expression, whether they are participating in the festival or not. It is ironic that this assault took place during a festival themed ‘Writing for your Life’. We completely deplore the violent attack and the harassment she has been subjected to. The festival exists in a space that enables the public to discuss and engage with a myriad challenging issues which we believe helps to stimulate tolerance and understanding in society,” she said.

Dala is a therapist and writer. She has published short stories and articles in various newspapers and magazines in South Africa, including The Witness, Marie Claire, Elle and WomanandHome Magazine.

She was the second-prize winner in The Witness’s 2012 True Stories of KwaZulu-Natal, second-prize winner in the Woman and Home Short Story Competition and a finalist in the Elle Short Story Competition.

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