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Posts Tagged ‘Jewel of Medina’

Rushdie: Random Gave In To “Censorship By Fear”

salman-rushdie-headshot.jpgEver since the world learned about Random House‘s cancellation of The Jewel of Medina over what the company described as “cautionary advice” that publishing a novel narrated by the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad might expose them to terrorist attacks, people have been comparing Sherry Jones‘s situation to that faced by Sir Salman Rushdie after the release of The Satanic Verses. Heck, the woman who gave Random House that advice, Islamic studies professor Denise Spellberg, explicitly accused Jones of being an anti-Islamic polemicist by following in Rushdie’s thematic footsteps. So what does Rushdie, who’s been published by Random House for several years now, think of this last week’s hoopla?

“This is censorship by fear, and it sets a very bad precedent indeed,” Rushdie emailed the Associated Press. Upon hearing that one of the company’s most prestigious authors was “very disappointed,” a Random House spokesperson responded: “We certainly respect Mr. Rushdie’s opinion, but we stand by our decision, which we made with considerable deliberation and regret.” (Note that regret: told you that was coming.) Which rather misses the point: It’s not as if Random House, having already liberated Jones from her contract, could change its mind at this point. Even if the company decided it would rather face the threat of violence than continue to be viewed as moral cowards by significantly more people than would even dream of attacking them over a book, the only way they could publish the novel now would be to buy it back again, and we all know that isn’t going to happen.

So let’s stop pretending this is a decision that one can actively choose to “stand by” in a meaningful way, shall we? It’s not a position Random can stick to on principle; it’s the position they’re stuck with.

(The argument for canceling the book and keeping Random House’s employees and other corporate assets safe from harm is not entirely unpersuasive, of course. As I commented earlier this week, though, it leaves every other author wondering, if only for a moment, whether the company would refuse to stand up for them under similar circumstances.)

[AP file photo]

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Sherry Jones & The Jewel of Medina: Which Side Are You On?

mark-weston-headshot.jpgNeither Andy nor I was able to make it to Mark Weston‘s book party last week, but luckily for us Wiley publicist Cynthia Shannon thought to ask the author of Prophets & Princes, a history of Saudi Arabia, what he thought about Random House pulling the plug on The Jewel of Medina, Sherry Jones‘s novel about A’isha, the youngest of Muhammad’s wives.

“I agree with [Denise Spellberg],” Weston emailed Shannon after reading the original WSJ op-ed that started the public furor. “You don’t turn scripture into soft core pornography.” While admitting that he hadn’t read any of Jones’s novel, Weston says, apparently going by what the scholar who told Random House they were exposing themselves to terrorist attacks has said about the book, “it seems to be a work that will enflame rather than enlighten… Turning the Quran into a bodice-ripper is not the way to show Muslims the advantages of freedom.” (Note: Based on a reading of the novel’s prologue, I question Spellberg’s characterization.)

“Sherry Jones can write and self-publish whatever she wants,” Weston added. “Random House is free to decide that a book is not worth the trouble if publishing it will cause people to die. Should the world’s most violent men have a veto over what gets published? No. But publishing The Jewel of Medina would make radical Muslims stronger, not weaker. In the long struggle for freedom, let us choose a more intelligent cause.”

Strong words for a book Weston hasn’t even read yet. (By the way, who gets to decide which acts of expression are “intelligent” enough to enjoy the support of enlightened free-thinkers? Just asking.) And novelist Andrew Klavan would probably have even stronger words in response to Weston’s dismissal—starting with “Nuts!” and working his way up to a NSFW vocabulary from there.

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