One wishes that courage was spent on causes and actions worthy of the virtue. Last August, in "The 'Sensitivity' Syndrome," I commented on Random House's cancellation of the publication of Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina, a kind of feminist "bodice-ripper" novel about Aisha, the child-bride of Mohammad, for fear of Islamic "extremist" violence. The novel, if published in August as planned by Ballantine, a subsidiary of Random House, I noted, would have quickly sunk out of sight into the morass of mediocre fiction which the trade regularly churns out, but for the efforts of a non-Muslim provocateur, associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Denise Spellberg.
Spellberg was sent a review copy by the publisher for her endorsement in the form of a jacket blurb. Instead, she first warned the Muslim grapevine that it offended Islam, and the next day warned Random House of possible "extremist violence." She claimed, among other things, that the "sacred history" of Mohammad had been turned by Jones into "soft core pornography."
"I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history," she claimed in an email. What she apparently does not have a problem with is inciting violence among Muslims, who, without Spellberg's calling attention to the novel, might have remained ignorant of its existence. What any other writer should have a problem with was her calculated conspiracy to see the novel unpublished through censorship by fear. She called the novel a "very ugly, stupid piece of work." That description more aptly applies to Spellberg's actions.
The publication rights to the novel were bought by a small British publisher, Gibson Square, which has published other controversial books, including Londonistan, by Melanie Phillips, which details the gradual submission of Britain and the British government to Islam, and Blow up Russia, by Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered by Vladimir Putin's agents in London.
On September 27, Muslims firebombed the London home of Martin Rynja, the Dutch publisher and owner of Gibson Square. Rynja's home also served as the offices of the book-publishing firm. Gibson Square announced on September 5 that it had bought the publication rights to Jones's novel and planned to publish it. Another small publisher, Beaufort Books of New York, in cooperation with Gibson Square, plans to publish The Jewel of Medina in the U.S., and has signed a contract for its sequel. Last Monday Beaufort Books closed its office as a precaution against similar censorship by violence. Rynja is presumably now in hiding or under police protection, and publication of the novel in Britain or in the U.S. remains to be seen.
Three Muslims have been arrested, two of them outside Rynja's home. That aspect of the incident is curious. Scotland Yard's Special Branch, in an undisclosed undercover operation, had knowledge of the conspiracy to firebomb the house and presumably murder Rynja, who was told to leave. The police waited for two of the suspects to actually commit the arson by shoving a container of gas through Rynja's letterbox, which ignited inside the house, before collaring the two Muslims. Then the police and firefighters had to break down the front door to extinguish the fire. The house is now vacant.
So one might wonder why the police waited until the Muslims had actually committed a crime they were certain was going to occur, instead of arresting them before Rynja was compelled to leave and his home was damaged. The police's odd behavior is linked to the fear of the authorities of being accused of racial or religious "profiling," an illogical policy that debilitates Britain's counter-terrorism efforts (and also the U.S.'s).
Aside from the presumed undercover operation that netted them knowledge of the suspects' intentions, the police refused to risk arresting two Muslims who were walking around London with an incendiary device at two o'clock in the morning in the vicinity of the intended victim's neighborhood as not grounds enough for action. That is, the police and the courts would have likely accepted the Muslim position that it was not grounds enough for action. This is another face of the "sensitivity syndrome" that is requisite for submission to Islam and Sharia law.
Leaving aside Rynja's literary esteem for Jones's novel - "I was completely bowled over by the novel and the moving love story it portrays," he said weeks before the firebombing - Rynja expressed the proper moral position against censorship by firebombing, government edict, or by popular opinion. "I immediately felt that it was imperative to publish it. In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear."
Going by descriptions of The Jewel of Medina, I do not plan to read the novel.
"Described by critics as a tale of 'lust, love and intrigue in the Prophet's harem,' The Jewel of Medina traces the life of Aisha, Mohammed's favorite wife. It tells of her marriage aged nine to Mohammed, who is much older, and how she is forced to use her wits and sword to defend her position as he takes another 12 wives and concubines," reported the Daily Mail.
"The novel also tells how, at 14, Aisha almost betrays her husband after they are separated as they travel together. She is rescued by a childhood friend who tries to seduce her. She resists, but the scandal rocks Medina. When she returns, a mob accuses her of adultery. Mohammed's friends urge him to divorce her, but he tells them: 'I would just as soon cut out my own heart.'"Not exactly on the level of Othello. But one imagines that Muslim objections to the novel dwell on the portrayals of Aisha as a Wahhabist Wonder Woman and of Mohammad as a guy with a heart of gold who wouldn't dream of allowing his favorite wife to be stoned to death or beheaded on the rumor that she had committed adultery, which is the kind of punishment that Saudi and other theocratic courts mete out to wayward women. Aisha's and Mohammad's actions contradict Islamic moral and social norms; those actions are at variance with Sharia law; therefore Muslims are offended by the novel and oppose its publication.
And oppose the novel they do, and any form of representation of Mohammad in word or image, as the reaction to the Danish cartoons demonstrated in 2005, or any criticism of Islam or Muslims that could be interpreted as "religious hatred" or "incitement" to it by both Muslims and Britain's suborned judicial system. One Muslim cleric, Omar Bakri, was outspoken about the fate of those who were in any way associated with publication of The Jewel of Medina, that the firebombing of Rynja's home was but "the thin edge of the wedge."
Another Muslim cleric also weighed in.
"...[T]he radical cleric Anjem Choudhary said the book was an insult to the Prophet Mohammed's honor, something he said would warrant a 'death penalty' under Sharia law."Note the qualifier in Choudhary's description as a "radical" cleric. This is also a form of "sensitivity," which blanks out the fact that any Muslim cleric must be "radical" by definition of Sharia law and its imposition on both Muslims and non-Muslims. There is no "moderate," conciliatory form of Islam, just as there can be no such thing as a "moderate" Muslim willing to observe secular law at the price of compromising his religious beliefs. Islamic clerics warn of punishment of Muslims who do recognize the validity of secular law. An Islam that made such a concession to secular law would no longer be Islam, no longer be "extreme," and no longer be a threat to the West.
Compare the Telegraph article with that of the New York Times of September 29, "Attack May Be Tied to Book About Muhammad." It "may be"? Was Rynja being threatened by Christian Scientists or Jehovah's Witnesses, or by members of Holiness, a branch of the Mennonites? Submission to Islam is evident on both sides of the Atlantic.
A sample of official Islamic mental gymnastics may be seen in a Daily Telegraph opinion piece from 2004, "We need protection from the pedlars of religious hatred," by the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
There is no point in warning that the same brand of submission to Islam can happen in the U.S. It already has, as the action of Random House has demonstrated, and also the evasive manner in which especially the federal government and the news media sensitively treat Islamic "extremism."
Sensitivity's other name is self-censorship, and opposition to it has fallen to small publishers and those who would defend them at renewed risk, such as Salman Rushdie, subject of a similar fatwa of reprisals in 1989 for The Satanic Verses. The champions of the freedom of speech have always been in a minority, and very often they have made a difference. Never minding its literary value or lack of it, we should hope that Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina sees the light of day.
Edward Cline is a novelist who has written on the revolutionary war period. He is author of the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia in the Revolutionary period, the detective novel First Prize, the suspense novel Whisper the Guns, and of numerous published articles, book reviews and essays.