In a letter to the editor in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, UT history prof and Islam scholar Denise Spellberg explains her role in the Random House decision to pull a book before publication. And defends herself against last week's WSJ op-ed , which she says misrepresented her and the situation.
She writes in her letter that she felt a duty to warn publishers of the "novel's potential to provoke anger among some Muslims" but that she did not "single-handedly stop the book's publication." Random House made that decision, she wrote, after consulting with other scholars and weighing its own corporate interests.
I do not espouse censorship of any kind, but I do value my right to critique those who abuse the past without regard for its richness or resonance in the present.
The book in question, which Spellberg was asked to review, is a historical novel titled "The Jewel of Medina". It's written by Washington (state) journalist Sherry Jones about the life of Aisha, a child bride to the prophet Muhammad. According to the WSJ op-ed and other sources I've spoken to, Jones approached the book with respect for Aisha and no intention to offend Muslims.You can read Jones' prologue here.
But Spellberg slams the novel:
There is a long history of anti-Islamic polemic that uses sex and violence to attack the Prophet and his faith. This novel follows in that oft-trodden path, one first pioneered in medieval Christian writings.
Sure, but it's worrisome that art whether books, movies or cartoons can provoke violent reaction. And whoever suggested that this book might do the same is no doubt basing that assumption on recent history. And such violent response is something that we cannot excuse in an albeit global but nevertheless (ideally) civil society.