Norwegian journalist Halvor Tjønn, who recently finished a biography of Muhammad for Oslo publisher Kagge, is the latest to experience a phenomenon that spans more than two decades: the sudden and mysterious cancellation of Islam-related books. Rita Karlsen has his story:
According to Aftenposten the author and publisher signed a contract for the book in January 2009. Shortly afterward, he handed in his completed manuscript, which he had been working on since the spring of 2007. Last summer the publisher asked him to add footnotes and references to his source materials, a labor that took several months. The book was also included in Kagge's 2009 fall catalog. But in July of this year came the news: it was "best that another publisher take the book."
"It's an internal matter," said Kagge's director, denying that any threats had been received. Tjønn remarked, "If the publisher had objections to the book's quality, that would have come up much earlier in the process, and not after a year and a half"; he declined to get more specific. Naturally the tight lips bolster suspicion of fear-based self-censorship at work yet again. This case certainly fits the history of books about Islam disappearing as anxiety over violence grows:
In 1989, Harper & Row canceled its agreement with Daniel Pipes to publish The Rushdie Affair, citing commercial concerns, even though he had inked a contract, delivered the text, and gotten it accepted. Birch Lane released the book in 1990. Around the same time, other writers had problems with a Rushdie-focused commission for William Collins.
In 2006, Looseleaf Law Publications killed Nancy Kobrin's book on the psychology of suicide bombings, a year after she signed a contract. Kobrin reported that the organization had admitted to abandoning it for safety reasons. It finally appeared in 2010 as The Banality of Suicide Terrorism, from Potomac Books.
In 2008, Random House axed The Jewel of Medina, Sherry Jones' novel about Muhammad's young wife, due to fear of violence. Months later, it was published in the U.S. by Beaufort Books. Then the owner of Gibson Square, which was set to bring it to shelves in Britain, suffered an attempted arson at his home; he dropped it as well.
In 2009, German publisher Droste pulled To Whom Honor Is Due, Gabriele Brinkmann's mystery novel about an honor killing, just before its appearance because the author refused to modify passages deemed controversial. "One knows that one can't publish sentences or drawings that defame Islam without expecting a security risk," Droste stated.
Equally maddening, of course, is censorship of what actually does make it to print, such as Yale University Press removing all images of Muhammad from a text on the Danish cartoons.
It is time to "throw the book" at publishers that embolden radicals by pussyfooting around Islam — or even giving the impression of doing so. Readers may begin with Kagge (email@example.com).
April 4, 2011, Update: Halvor Tjønn's book has been released by a different publishing house, to negative reviews from the establishment.