Fear stunts intelligent discourse

The Wall Street Journal (via) reports that Random House have pulled a historical novel by Sherry Jones about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad after an American academic took exception to it.

The publisher bought The Jewel of Medina last year as part of a two book deal and an August 12th publication date was set. In April, looking for endorsements, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars, including one Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin.

Spellberg, It should be noted, is not a Muslim. But she decided to take offence on behalf of Muslims and called Shahed Amanullah, the editor of a popular Muslim web site.

After he got the call from Ms. Spellberg, Mr. Amanullah dashed off an email to a listserv of Middle East and Islamic studies graduate students, acknowledging he didnt know anything about it [the book], but telling them, Just got a frantic call from a professor who got an advance copy of the forthcoming novel, Jewel of Medina she said she found it incredibly offensive. He added a write-up about the book from the Publishers Marketplace, an industry publication.

The next day, a blogger known as Shahid Pradhan posted Mr. Amanullahs email on a Web site for Shiite Muslims Hussaini Youth under a headline, upcoming book, Jewel of Medina: A new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam. Two hours and 28 minutes after that, another person by the name of Ali Hemani proposed a seven-point strategy to ensure the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims across the world.

Spellberg also called Jane Garrett, an editor at Random Houses Knopf imprint (with whom she has a contract to write Thomas Jeffersons Quran). Ms. Garrett recorded the results of the conversation in an email on May 1st to Knopf executives.

She thinks there is a very real possibility of major danger for the building and staff and widespread violence, Ms. Garrett wrote. Denise says it is a declaration of war . . . explosive stuff . . . a national security issue. Thinks it will be far more controversial than the satanic verses and the Danish cartoons. Does not know if the author and Ballantine folks are clueless or calculating, but thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP. (The Jewel of Medina was to be published by Random Houses Ballantine Books.) That day, the email spread like wildfire through Random House, which also received a letter from Ms. Spellberg and her attorney, saying she would sue the publisher if her name was associated with the novel. On May 2, a Ballantine editor told Ms. Joness agent the company decided to possibly postpone publication of the book.

On a May 21 conference call, Random House executive Elizabeth McGuire told the author and her agent that the publishing house had decided to indefinitely postpone publication of the novel for fear of a possible terrorist threat from extremist Muslims and concern for the safety and security of the Random House building and employees.

Sherry Jones has signed a termination agreement with Random House so her literary agent is able to seek another publisher.

2 Responses to Fear stunts intelligent discourse

  1. on 04 Sep 2008 at 7:37 pm GagWatch » Aisha update

    [...] update Following the decision by Random House to pull The Jewel of Medina, a historical novel by Sherry Jones about Aisha, the [...]

  2. on 28 Sep 2008 at 9:55 am GagWatch » Publisher firebombed

    [...] academic, Denise Spellberg decided to take offence on bahalf of Muslims, everywhere, Random House pulled the [...]

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