KARACHI: The Feminist Collective, a leftist feminist group, has penned an open letter protesting the Karachi Literature Festival’s (KLF) decision to invite Germany-based author Ronya Othmann — a known supporter of the state of Israel — as a guest speaker to its 15th iteration, Dawn.com reported on Friday.

The KLF has since removed her name from the list of speakers mentioned on its website.

Othmann, who has a history of problematic, anti-Islam and anti-Palestine comments, was invited for two talks, the first on Feb 17 for her book The Summers, and again on Feb 18 for a programme titled Beyond the Seas.

In their open letter, The Feminist Collective highlighted that during a panel by the German newspaper TAZ, Othmann, along a fellow panellist and the interviewer, claimed that Muslim immigrants, including Palestinians, are “jihadists” and “terrorists” for expressing sympathy with Palestinian resistance to a 75-year-long occupation.

Other instances, as detailed in the letter, include an article written by Othmann wherein she targeted German-Palestinian journalist Alena Jabarine “as well as other writers of colour for pointing out that what Israel is doing to Palestinians in Gaza is a genocide”.

The Collective also maintained that Othmann attacked the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to “end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law”. The Feminist Collective stated that Othmann claimed the BDS was “a form of violence against the state of Israel, and was lacking political legitimacy” as well as “global support for terror”.

On her X (formerly Twitter) account, Othmann has reshared several tweets likening support for the Palestinian resistance to anti-Semitism and calling for its penalisation. Her tweets against pro-Palestinian rallies include claims that there is an “Islamism problem”.

Moreover, the author has perpetuated Israeli narratives that Hamas uses Gazans as human shields. Her language and sentiments are described by The Feminist Collective as “in essence a right-wing dog-whistle targeting vulnerable Muslim and Arab immigrant populations in Europe, especially Palestinians”.

“As Pakistanis, we find KLF’s choice of Othmann as a speaker unacceptable — indeed, obscene — and especially so given that the Israeli genocide of Palestinians is in its sixth month, with over 28,000 Palestinians dead, more than 10,000 of them children,” the Collective stated in their letter.

The Feminist Collective demanded that “KLF immediately cancel this event and issue a public apology to the Palestinian people and to all Pakistanis of conscience”.

They said that “if KLF does not cancel this event, and issue a public apology, we [the Collective] will mobilise a boycott of its festival this year and in the years to come”.

An official statement from KLF is still awaited. However, Othmann’s name has been removed from the official speaker list on the festival’s website as well as the online schedule for the event.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2024

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