Commentary by Kay B. Day
Although a popular female author’s event was disrupted at the New Delhi World Book Fair, not one Western media outlet reported it. The author, Noor Zaheer, writes about women’s rights.
Swarajya magazine did report on it, and the incident illustrates how free speech can be impeded when an individual speaks out about a topic that threatens the status quo. Sudesh Verma, a senior journalist and president of Debating India Foundation, recounted the disruption at Zaheer’s launch of her latest work, Denied by Allah—Angst Against Archaic Laws of Halala, Triple Talaq, Muta’h and Khula. The launch was held the last day of the book fair.
Verma characterized the situation as “a handful of radical Islamists [holding] the entire house of liberals to ransom.”
Zaheer’s book was to launch the last day of the Book Fair, but Verma wrote, “[A] group of Muslims first occupied seats among the audience, then started interrupting the proceedings and finally, went berserk.”
“Facing the indignity of having to sleep with a stranger just to return to a husband who has pronounced Triple Talaq in a fit of anger; running from pillar to post to end a marriage by begging for Khula, Denied by Allah is a book that mirrors stories of women for whom even God does not seem to have mercy. These are women who have opened the windows of their bleak, painful lives in these pages; some surviving Mut’ah (pleasure), a temporary marriage, equivalent to prostitution.”
Vitasta, in the interest of permitting dissenting voices to speak, invited a mufti to participate in the launch. The mufti demanded 30 minutes for his presentation in a discussion that had been allocated only an hour. Complicating the matter, the mufti had arrived late.
The book hadn’t even been released, so it stands to reason no one in the audience had read it, but that didn’t matter. Verma wrote:
“[A] band of Muslim students and elders had already occupied seats among the audience. When different people rose to ask questions to the author, the Muslim youths snatched the mike from them…”
Zaheer’s book explores the status of women in her faith, and she believes the faith as it is now interpreted is not fair to women. The cleric who spoke at Zaheer’s launch actually expounded on why wife beating is acceptable; he rambled for more than an hour.
Verma said, “Muslim radicals, in the meantime, heckled the speakers and many times they came to blows. The situation was saved due to timely intervention of some bystanders and the meeting had to be hurriedly concluded.”
Policemen did not attempt to stop the interruptions.
The book fair has been held for 41 years. It was held this year Feb. 14-22 in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.
In Islam, dissolving a marriage is very complicated. Shagufta Omar, faculty member at the International Islamic University Islamabad [Pakistan], Dawah center for women, analyzed practices and laws in Islam, and he explains why divorce is viewed as “a most detestable act.”
Day on the Day learned about the disruption of Zaheer’s book event via Twitter. Siddharth Varadarajan, senior fellow at the Center for Public Affairs and Critical Theory in India [@svaradarajan], tweeted a link to Verma’s column, characterizing the dustup as “Intolerance unlimited.”
Americans often chastise moderates for not speaking out when Islamists commit violent acts, but speaking out can often be impeded by those seeking to impose medieval standards on modern societies. US media refrain from covering oppression in other countries, focusing instead on politicizing women’s rights in the freest country in the world.
Photographs taken at Zaheer’s book launch suggested the disrupters were mostly male.
Featured image: Via Twitter, intellectuals attempted to shine a light on the disruption at a book launch for Noor Zaheer’s novel ‘Denied by Allah’ at the New Delhi World Book Fair. (Snip: Twitter @svaradarajan)
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