Former WSJ reporter Asra Q. Nomani returns to the paper's op-ed section today to sort out the details of why Ballantine cancelled a novel about Muhammad's wife. Long story short: A handful of people who heard about Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina from somebody who heard about it from somebody who read the galley said they were pissed off just thinking about the book's possible publication, and Random House executives decided they had a terrorist threat on their hands.
Officially, the publishers cite "cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment." So the internal wisdom at Random House would appear to indicate that Anne Rice can write about Jesus, but Sherry Jones can't write about Muhammad... or his wife.
There's another, less significant lesson to be drawn from this episode: Be careful who you ask to blurb your novel. This whole mess started when Islamic studies professor Denise Spellberg (who has a book deal at another division of Random) was sent an advance copy of The Jewel of Medina, and apparently hated it so much that, rather than just email back a simple "no comment," she made a "frantic" phone call to a colleague asking him to "warn Muslims" about the book's publication. And here's the best part: She then threatened to sue her own publisher "if her name was associated with the novel." What, did she think Ballantine was going to use "[a] very ugly, stupid piece of work" as a pullquote?