(Picture taken from The daily Vox)
This morning I was interviewed on Channel Islam with regards to the assault case against a Durban-based South African author Zainub Priya Dala. For those of you who are not aware of the story, Zainub Priya Dala was a guest at the “Time of the Writer” literature festival in Durban and as part of the festivals outreach program she traveled to Chatsworth for a workshop where she addressed learners and students at a community centre. Whilst interacting with the public she was asked which writers she admired to which she replied quite casually Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie. After mentioning the name Salman Rushdie some of the learners and teachers stood up and left. Later that afternoon she started receiving threatening text messages from complete strangers asking her to repent as a Muslim woman for admiring the work of Salman Rushdie. Then last week Wednesday whilst driving in Durban she was followed allegedly by three Muslim men in their early thirties. They tried pushing her off the road and eventually when she stopped at a busy intersection, the men assaulted her. They took out a knife and placed it across her throat and then smashed her face with a brick leaving her bleeding on the side of the road before speeding off. Dala mentioned that they screamed at her calling her “Rushdie’s bitch”
In this morning’s interview I was quite shocked that the presenter asked me if the author is Muslim. For a start what does being Muslim have to do with the fact that three Muslim males assaulted a woman. No religion condones violence or beating up people simply because they do not conform to mainstream ideologies. What I find quite interesting is that many South Africans have not even read the Satanic verses to understand why the book is considered blasphemous. The mere fact that they hear the name Salman Rushdie triggers the aggression within them. I have read the Satanic verses and whilst I do not condone everything that the man has written I have to acknowledge the fact that the man is a literary genius. He has an excellent command of the English language and his style of writing is unique. We need to take cognisance of the fact that he has not only written the Satanic verses. Of course, it is this one book that catapulted him to fame for all the wrong reasons but he has written many other books like “Midnight’s children” and “The ground beneath her feet” which were literary masterpieces that received international acclaim.
The assault on this Durban based author allegedly by three Muslim men was an act of cowardice on their part. It was a disgusting act that totally goes against the teaching of Islam or any religion for that matter. The presenter shocked me even more by stating that whilst the act was unacceptable maybe she needed to be more careful and respected the sentiments of the community by not mentioning Salman Rushdie, that perhaps in this case freedom of expression did not apply. He chose quite a silly rationale by stating that if you were in Israel as a traveler would you mention the name Adolf Hitler and speak about the Holocaust. To which I replied that you cannot compare South Africa to Israel. The demographics of each country is very different. We reside in a democratic country where we are allowed freedom of speech and expression. The public has a go at the president of the country on social media. Muslims residing in this country are not a law unto themselves. We do not live in some isolated island. We reside in an integrated society and we need to respect the laws of this country.
A few months ago Mufti Ismail Menk was assaulted by a group of Muslim men in Durban who did not agree with his views on certain aspects of religion. Does this mean that Mufti Menk should start respecting the sentiments of that community and stop voicing his opinion on live television? The irony about this whole assault case is that no where did the author speak about Islam or religion. No where did she say that she agrees with what is written in the Satanic verses. All she said was that she admires the way he writes.