Sherry Jones wasn't supposed to be in Missoula this week. She should have been in Chicago or Los Angeles or San Francisco, promoting her first novel, "Jewel of Medina."
It was slated to arrive on bookstore shelves Tuesday. It's not there.
Jones' publisher, Random House, yanked it after concerns were raised that the book would cause the sort of deadly uproar that accompanied cartoons depicting Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, or the publication of Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," a novel dealing in part with the life of Muhammad.
Both sparked death threats and rioting by people who found those depictions offensive, and Rushdie lived in hiding for years after his book came out in 1988. Three of his book's translators were attacked, one fatally. In the case of the 2005 cartoons in Jyllands-Posten, dozens of protesters were killed, and Danish embassies around the world were attacked.
Random House said in a statement that it pulled Jones' book after "credible and unrelated sources" had cautioned that publication of the historical novel, about A'isha, the youngest of Muhammad's 12 wives and concubines, "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
"I was devastated," Jones said Friday during an interview at the Hob Nob on Higgins. "I felt the closest thing to depression that I have ever felt in my life."
Jones fled Spokane, where she now lives, to Missoula on Tuesday after an interview with a reporter for an Arabic paper who, she said, asked her questions like "Don't you care about the feelings of Muslims?" and "Do you think it's OK to write about the Prophet's sex life?"
"I snapped. I burst into tears" after the interview, said Jones, who said her life has been a nonstop crush of publicity after the Wall Street Journal wrote about the situation earlier this month. Hence, her trip to Missoula, "my home � where I feel safe and comfortable."
Her situation has attracted worldwide attention.
"This is censorship by fear," Rushdie - whose publisher is Random House - wrote Thursday in an e-mail to the Associated Press, "and it sets a very bad precedent indeed."
Pakistan's English-language Daily Times wrote about the flap, and newspapers in Great Britain, Rushdie's home, are having a field day.
Mick Hume, writing Tuesday in the Times of London, called it "another example of a quiet wave of self-censorship and cultural cowardice sweeping Western art circles."
Meanwhile, Britain's Guardian newspaper, also on Tuesday, reported that attorney Geoffrey Robertson - whose book "The Tyrannicide Brief" was published stateside by Random House's Anchor Books - has called for the publisher to pay Jones "substantial compensation," and to place the book on the Web where everyone can read it.
On Friday, she did a telephone interview with a Serbian reporter. The book is being published there this week, and is still slated for publication in Spain and Italy, she said. Meanwhile, her agent is negotiating with other American firms about publication here.
It's quite a change from a year ago, when Jones - a former Missoulian entertainment reporter - was living every debut author's dream, with a $100,000 two-book contract from Random House for "Jewel of Medina" and a sequel about A'isha's life after the death of Muhammad.
But in May, she said, her agent got a call from Random House about concerns raised by Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin.
Jones, who had relied on some of Spellberg's research for her novel, had sent her a copy of the book. Spellberg didn't like it.
Spellberg did not respond to a Missoulian request for comment, but she told the Wall Street Journal's Asra Q. Nomani that the novel was a "very ugly, stupid piece of work," calling it "soft-core pornography."
Spellberg also called an editor at Random House's Knopf imprint, urging them to pull the book, Nomani wrote.
Later that month, after consultation with other experts on Islam, Random House canceled its contract with Jones. The publisher's statement said its sources felt "this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community."
Jones said that even as some have criticized her book, others have called her an "Islamopanderer."
"At the same time the Muslims want to kill me, I'm pandering to them?" she asked. " ... When people talk about an offended Muslim being the same as a violent Muslim, to me that sounds like racism."
Jones said she researched her book by studying Arabic at the University of Montana, and by taking an Islamic history course taught by Mehrdad Kia, director of the university's Central and Southwest Asia program. She also read widely about Islamic history and culture, she said.
Her aim, she said, was to "honor" Muslim women by writing about A'isha, who was betrothed to the Prophet at the age of 6, later married him and, after his death, became a political adviser and even directed an army during a battle.
The more she learned about A'isha, she said, the more she thought, "What a pistol. � She seemed like someone I would want to know."
The book begins with a description of an accusation of adultery against A'isha:
"Scandal blew in on the errant wind when I rode into Medina clutching Safwan's waist. My neighbors rushed into the street. � What they saw: my wrapper fallen to my shoulders, unheeded. Loose hair lashing my face. The wife of God's Prophet entwined around another man."
Jones said that although she writes of Muhammad's and Aisha's marriage being consummated, she never describes the pair actually having sex.
Still, criticism of the book has given her pause. For her next book, she'd planned to focus on Sukayna, Muhammad's granddaughter. Now she's having second thoughts.
"I'd like to take a break from Arabic history," she said. There's another legendary woman who intrigues her.
"Lady Godiva," she said. "I read that ride never happened."