English PEN is gravely alarmed to hear that South African novelist Zainub Priya Dala has been admitted to a mental institution in Durban, South Africa. Dala is also a psychologist and a physiotherapist specialising in autism.
In March, at a literary event at a school, she praised the works of Salman Rushdie. A day later, three men accosted her when she was in her car, placed a knife at her throat and hit her face with a brick. She was addressed as ‘Rushdie’s Bitch.’ She believes that if a minibus taxi had not pulled into the vacant lot that she would have been stabbed.
Dala has since been under pressure from members of Durban’s Muslim community to recant and repent. She has now been sent to a mental institution – St Joseph’s. She has no access to laptops, only has use of her mobile and is unable to write.
They then quote her, I guess via her mobile:
I’ve been … drugged till I can barely walk … and basically broken down into a submission where I will follow the straight path (if there is one). I feel that the far-reaching damage to my kids will be severe as they attend schools that are 90% Muslim. And I refuse to educate them with fire and brimstone stories about how they may go to heaven but their beloved grandmother will burn in hellfire. That’s what they are teaching the kids now anyway. I have also been harangued to withdraw, dissect, explain and renounce my admiration of [Rushdie’s] works. I could just as easily burn my Oscar Wilde collection because some homophobes came calling. I can’t turn back now and pretend I never admired his writing. I would look like a fool.
Ellipses in the original.
English PEN calls for Dala’s immediate release and for the campaign of intimidation against her to cease. ‘The repercussions of her public statement of support for Salman Rushdie should appal anyone who cares about freedom of expression in South Africa,’ said English PEN director Jo Glanville. ‘That this assault has been followed by pressure from Dala’s own community, leading to her detention in a mental institution, is not treatment that any of us would expect to see in an open society.’
It’s clearly not her “own community.” Just being a Muslim doesn’t make her part of a “community” that bashes women in the face with bricks, tries to force them to disavow their own literary judgments, and imprisons them in mental institutions. Dala’s “community” is writers and thinkers and liberals and freethinkers. That’s our community.