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So now that the British publishers of Sherry Jones’ “The Jewel of Medina” have been firebombed, do you think that Random House is congratulating themselves on a prudent decision? In terms of cost-analysis, and in terms of potential danger, and in terms of (some) public relations, Random House clearly took the correct path. If nothing at all had happened, then perhaps it could be argued that they backed off prematurely. But in light of this terrorist attack, it seems that at least they calculated the danger correctly.
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But I have to wonder whether the media frenzy actually exacerbated the likelihood that fanatics would terrorize a publisher. Because the hubbub over the non-publishing of the book essentially pointed a huge arrow at the exposed necks of the subsequent publishers.
The bigger question is whether Random House should have gone ahead and published the book despite the potential danger. The question becomes less about profit margins and non-controversial business practices and more about freedom of speech. Is it possible to recognize the danger of publishing a book, yet still go ahead and do it out of principle?
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In a smaller company, the answer is yes. But in the corporate world, it seems that ideals are almost always upended by charts and cold facts and business savvy and risk-adverse executives. So I supposed that we shouldn’t have expected anything different from Random House. What’s important is that smaller publication houses still have the chutzpah to publish and publicize a work like this so the author’s voice is not silenced.
Although the British publisher, Martin Rynja, is now reconsidering whether he will indeed publish the book (having your house firebombed is rather disconcerting, after all). At least Beaufort Books, the U.S. publisher, has claimed that it will go ahead and publish the book on Oct. 15.
Denise Spellberg was the American academic that started this entire conflagration. When she was sent an advance copy of “The Jewel of Medina,” she became extremely proactive, not only lecturing Random House but also contacting fellow Muslim colleagues to tell them to warn the Islamic world.
Her position seems to be rather strange: why is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin promoting censorship? Someone in academia should know better. She’s non-Muslim, which means this isn’t a personal vendetta. Really, her problem is with the execution of the story, with the explicitness of activity between Muhammad and his child brides, which she called softcore pornography.
Let’s be honest: there’s lots of terrible writing out there, in which sex scenes devolve into disembodied organs seeking, lusting and striving. That’s why we have the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. So obviously the problem is not the sexuality, or the bad writing of sexuality, but that it has crossed a taboo line when it involves the prophet Mohammad.
This is ridiculous, and Denise Spellberg should be ashamed of the role she’s played in this latest episode of the Western world being intimidated by the threats of violence from Muslims.