The mainstream media has shown widespread support for both the publisher and author of The Jewel of Medina, the novel which has sparked controversy for its depiction of Aisha, the Islamic prophet Muhammad's wife.
Despite never having read the book, three men firebombed the home of the Martin Rynja, head of Gibson Square, the firm that is set to publish the novel. In response, the UK press have largely defended the book's author, Sherry Jones, and castigated those that have tried to restrict freedom of expression.
The Guardian's ‘Comment is Free' section has seen Jo Glanville, editor of ‘Index on Censorship', call Gibson Square "one of the bravest publishers in the business", with Rynja's support for free speech "exceptional."
Glanville also attacks Random House, who dropped The Jewel of Medina for fear that it "might be offensive to some in the Muslim community" and "it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment". On the decision for Random House to send the manuscript out to academics for approval prior to publication, Glanville asks "since when was a historian, however smart and literate, a suitable judge of whether a novel should or should not be published?"
Glanville goes on to say that "Random House's actions show just how far we have lost our way in this debate over free expression and Islam: the level of intimidation, fear and self-censorship is such that one of the biggest publishers in the world no longer felt able to publish a work of creative imagination without some kind of dispensation."
Inayat Bunglawala, also on ‘Comment is Free', said the arsonists had "clearly crossed a line that should not be crossed" and that "to those who are sending out emails urging Muslim organisations to call for the Jewel of Medina to be banned on the grounds of "provocation", just imagine if members of the BNP were to threaten to riot because they found the publication and distribution of the Qur'an to be offensive – would we consider withdrawing copies of the Qur'an?"
Kenan Malik, in The Times, also criticises Random House, saying that "all it takes for a publisher to run for cover is a letter from an outraged academic" and in his view it "is everybody's business to ensure that no one is deprived of their right to say what they wish, even if it is deemed by some to be offensive."
The Independent, the Daily Telegraph and the Press Association have widely reported the role of Denise Spellberg, the Texas academic whose disapproval of the book was considered vital in Random House's decision to drop The Jewel of Medina, and highlighted the calls being made for Spellberg to make a public apology.