Monday, September 29, 2008


Is Random House saying I told you so? The home and office of the publisher that took on the publication of Jewel of Medina was firebombed by three men who 'pre-planned' the attack and then waited around to be arrested. Martin Rynja, who runs the House Gibson Square from his home is now under police protection. According to Police, (Guardian)

[In the early hours of Saturday] officers from the counter-terrorism command arrested three men under the Terrorism Act 2000 in a pre-planned, intelligence-led operation.

"The men, aged 40, 22 and 30, were arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. Two of the men were stopped by armed officers and arrested in the street outside a property in Lonsdale Square, and the third following an armed vehicle stop near Angel tube.
Thankfully only a small fire was generated but this is nothing to the excitement certain Muslim clerics will generate with their faithful. According to the Telegraph a leading UK cleric has warned of further attacks:
But the radical cleric Anjem Choudhary, who lives in Ilford, east London, said he was "not surprised at all" by the attack and warned of possible further reprisals over the book "It is clearly stipulated in Muslim law that any kind of attack on his honour carries the death penalty," he said. "People should be aware of the consequences they might face when producing material like this. They should know the depth of feeling it might provoke."
In the Times Kenan Malik drew the obvious connection to The Satanic Verses:

Today all it takes for a publisher to run for cover is a letter from an outraged academic. In March, Random House sent galley proofs of The Jewel of Medina to various academics, hoping for endorsements. One of them, Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, condemned the book as “offensive”. Random House immediately dropped it. No other big American publishing house would touch it. Martin Rynja, a fierce advocate of free speech, eventually picked it up in Britain.

What the differing responses to the two novels reveal is how Rushdie's critics lost the battle but won the war. They never prevented the publication of his novel. But the argument at the heart of the anti-Rushdie case - that it is morally unacceptable to cause offence to other cultures - is now widely accepted. In the 20 years between the publication of The Satanic Verses and the withdrawal of The Jewel of Medina, the fatwa has in effect become internalised.

I've just finished God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens and this attack reminded me of this excerpt related to the infamous Dutch comics:
Euphemistic noises were made about the need to show 'respect,' but I know quite a number of editors concerned and can only say for a certainty that the chief motive for 'restraint' was simple fear. In other words, a handful of religious bullies and bigmouths could, so to speak, outvote the tradition of free expression in its Western heartland...To the ignoble motive of fear one must add the morally lazy practice of relativism: no group of nonreligious people threatening violence would have been granted such an easy victory, or had their excuses - not that they offered any of their own- made for them.
The author Sherry Jones points a finger at Random House and comments "I was disgusted by the inflammatory language Random House used to describe the potential Muslim reaction.”
(Note: This comment was misquoted by the newspaper - see the comments. It wasn't directed at Random House at all).

Isn't it time for right thinking publishers and publisher associations to stand up and voice their collective disgust and willingness to champion the right to publish without intimidation?


Sherry Jones said...

I was misquoted in the press regarding Random House. I never alluded to them at all in my interview. I said I was disgusted by the inflammatory language Denise Spellberg used. It was unnecessary, harmful, and untrue, and has caused anxiety among Muslims where none should exist.

Von Allan said...

My greatest disappointment has been the lack, at least from what I can tell, of a strong, coordinated and thoughtful protest from Muslim moderates (who, of course, represent the vast, vast majority) to disavow these acts on a consistent basis.

I have never gotten the sense that this happens with any type of regularity. Publishers do need to step up and publish material that challenges all sorts of world views. But terror is terror and that's easier said then done. This does not, for a moment, mean that I support any type of cowardice on the part of publishers. It does mean that I can understand where that fear comes from. I believe that fear would be easier to deal with if moderate Muslims would make their voices heard. Loudly, with well-thought out protests, and very, very often.