MARK COLVIN: The publishing industry's at the heart of controversy again, with a decision by Random House to scrap publication of a novel about one of Muhammad's wives.
The novel, "The Jewel of Medina", by US journalist Sherry Jones, was supposed to be released this month. But Random House decided to pull the book, after advice that the book "might be offensive" to some Muslims, and "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
The decision has left writers, including Salman Rushdie, furious. He's accused his own publisher of censorship.
Emily Bourke reports.
EMILY BOURKE: Aisha was always going to be a controversial subject for a novel.
Often referred to as the favourite wife of the prophet Muhammad, Aisha was promised to him when she was six-years-old and married when she was nine and he was 52.
The award-winning US journalist, Sherry Jones, says she was driven to write "The Jewel of Medina" because she found Aisha to be a remarkable heroine, little known in the West. She said Aisha story was an exciting tale of love, war, spiritual awakening and redemption.
But after consulting with Islamic scholars Random House Publishing Group released a statement saying the book would not be published for the safety of the author, the staff at Random House, and others.
(Excerpt from Random House statement)
READER: We stand firmly by our responsibility to support our authors and the free discussion of ideas, even those that may be construed as offensive by some. However, a publisher must weigh that responsibility against others that it also bears, and in this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel.
EMILY BOURKE: The company says it received advice from several quarters that the book might be offensive to some in the Muslims, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical element.
But there are questions about the source of the cautionary advice. It's been revealed Random House sent an advanced edition of the novel to a Texas-based professor of Islamic, Denise Spellberg.
She's reportedly described the book as incredibly offensive, poorly researched and strewn with "soft-core" pornographic scenes.
The author Sherry Jones has denied claims that her 400 page novel is a racy bodice-ripper. While her blog was recently removed, in earlier entries Jones defended her motives and research.
(Excerpt from Sherry Jones' blog)
SHERRY JONES (voiceover): I started writing "Jewel" for the pleasure of presenting Aisha to the Western world. I finished it and started its sequel, with the hope that these books would become bridge-builders to another counties and increase understanding of Islam as it was originally intended.
Although I've been aware from the start that my books might offend some people, I've never been afraid of physical harm because of them. I've expected controversy, yes, but never terrorism. There are no sex scenes in this book. The novel, is a work of serious historic fiction detailing the origins of Islam through the eyes of the Prophet Muhammad's youngest wife.
EMILY BOURKE: Australian writer John Dale has seen it all before. His children's book which included an Islamic terrorist was pulped by publishers in 2006 after publishers were advised the book was unacceptable for sale.
He says in this case the publishers have overreacted.
JOHN DALE: It's jumping the gun, really it is. I mean there've been no threats issued so far, so they're just saying, in case there is. It's self-censoring and it's a timid response, I think.
It's a fictionalised account of her life, of Aisha's life, and I imagine there'd be lots of people who would find a fictionalised account of Jesus' life offensive too. But it's just, how many people do we need to say such a particular book or text is offensive, and when should we take of that?
EMILY BOURKE: Given the action taken by Random House, not a small publishing house by any means, what sort of precedent do you think this sets?
JOHN DALE: It's interesting that Random House, I believe that they published Salman Rushdie, but not the "Satanic Verses", and he's criticised his publisher for withdrawing the novel. And all publishers are wary of reaction to certain, this type of book.
The irony of it is, by pulling the book and giving it sort of a power to people who want to censor literature because I think if that's gone ahead, there were no threats to the author or to the publishing house, but it was just a possibility of there being threats I mean it was a cautionary act that they've taken and I think they said they've received cautionary advice. It could incite acts of violence. Well, that's very timid and it's very depressing in a way, I think.
MARK COLVIN: Australian writer, and director of the Centre for New Writing at Sydney's University of Technology, John Dale, ending Emily Bourke's report.