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Women who braved Satanic Verses ‘fatwa’ launch book in Bethnal Green

PUBLISHED: 13:51 02 October 2014 | UPDATED: 15:17 02 October 2014

Feminists protest in defence of Salman Rushdie in 1989  Photo: Rob Kenyon

Feminists protest in defence of Salman Rushdie in 1989 Photo: Rob Kenyon

rob kenyon 1989

A book launch was held in Bethnal Green by feminists who took a stand to defend author Salman Rushdie from death threats over his novel The Satanic Verses.

Prof Nira Yuval-Davis at the book launch, standing in front of the original banner Photo: Ammy PhullProf Nira Yuval-Davis at the book launch, standing in front of the original banner Photo: Ammy Phull

Women Against Fundamentalism: Stories of Dissent and Solidarity was celebrated at the Rich Mix on September 21 with talks, music and stand-up comedy, and saw women activists discuss political struggles past and present.

It was hosted by the South Asian Women’s Creative Collective and featured a talk by Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

The collection of essays was edited by Sukhwant Dhaliwal, research fellow at the University of Bedfordshire, and Nira Yuval-Davis, a professor at the University of East London, and director of its Centre for Research on Migration.

They helped found Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF), a network for secular anti-racist feminists opposed to religious patriarchy.

Nira Yuval-Davis at the Rushdie protest in 1989 Photo: Rob KenyonNira Yuval-Davis at the Rushdie protest in 1989 Photo: Rob Kenyon

“What we wanted to do with the book is try to claim a feminist politics which is anti-racist and anti-fundamentalist,” said Prof Yuval-Davis.

“The movement was made up of people of different backgrounds, different faiths and none.”

WAF sprang up after Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 saying Rushdie should be killed for writing a blasphemous novel.

Muslim men held marches in support of the fatwa, calling for Rushdie’s blood.

But the feminists identified Rushdie with their own struggle for free thought and dissent, and protested against both the fatwa supporters and white racists who jumped on the bandwagon.

Prof Yuval-Davis said: “This was one of the times when the police actually saved our lives.”

After the protest, a meeting called by Southall Black Sisters for International Women’s Day led to the founding of WAF, which operated until 2012.

A film about the protest, Struggle or Submission, is available on YouTube.

For more on the book Women Against Fundamentalism: Stories of Dissent and Solidarity visit lwbooks.co.uk

For information visit womenagainstfundamentalism.org

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