Thursday, August 7, 2008

Random House bows its head

If our so called intelluctal leaders won't stand for freedom of speech, who shall?

Starting in 2002, Spokane, Wash., journalist Sherry Jones toiled weekends on a racy historical novel about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad. Ms. Jones learned Arabic, studied scholarly works about Aisha's life, and came to admire her protagonist as a woman of courage. When Random House bought her novel last year in a $100,000, two-book deal, she was ecstatic. This past spring, she began plans for an eight-city book tour after the Aug. 12 publication date of "The Jewel of Medina" -- a tale of lust, love and intrigue in the prophet's harem.

It's not going to happen: In May, Random House abruptly called off publication of the book. The series of events that torpedoed this novel are a window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world.

Random House feared the book would become a new "Satanic Verses," the Salman Rushdie novel of 1988 that led to death threats, riots and the murder of the book's Japanese translator, among other horrors. In an interview about Ms. Jones's novel, Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, said that it "disturbs us that we feel we cannot publish it right now." He said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received "from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

After consulting security experts and Islam scholars, Mr. Perry said the company decided "to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel."

This time, the instigator of the trouble wasn't a radical Muslim cleric, but an American academic. In April, looking for endorsements, Random House sent galleys to writers and scholars, including Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin. Ms. Jones put her on the list because she read Ms. Spellberg's book, "Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr."

But Ms. Spellberg wasn't a fan of Ms. Jones's book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Ms. Spellberg's classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her. "She was upset," Mr. Amanullah recalls. He says Ms. Spellberg told him the novel "made fun of Muslims and their history," and asked him to warn Muslims.

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 didn't "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. Amanullah's 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."

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. Jones's agent the company decided to possibly postpone publication of the book.

All this saddens me. Literature moves civilizations forward, and Islam is no exception. There is in fact a tradition of historical fiction in Islam, including such works as "The Adventures of Amir Hamza," an epic on the life of Muhammad's uncle. Last year a 948-page English translation was published, ironically, by Random House. And, for all those who believe the life of the prophet Muhammad can't include stories of lust, anger and doubt, we need only read the Quran (18:110) where, it's said, God instructed Muhammad to tell others: "I am only a mortal like you."

From all of this it appears that all was fine until Ms. Spellberg became involved.

BTW - Did I include this?

Meanwhile back in New York City, Jane Garrett, an editor at Random House's Knopf imprint, dispatched an email on May 1 to Knopf executives, telling them she got a phone call the evening before from Ms. Spellberg (who happens to be under contract with Knopf to write "Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an.")

Anybody wanna bet "Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an" doesn't gets published?? I'd say it's about a 10 to 1 to get a book tour including NPR and C-Span interviews...


More military humor

Again, my thanks to Grant M.

Canadian Sunset on free speech.

Actually it is midnight.

Please read this. It is truly frightening.

Mr. Levant describes the tribulation, trial, and aftermath of his nightmare at the hands of Canadian bureaucrats. It is squirmingly Kafkaesque:

Some 900 days after I became the only person in the Western world charged with the “offence” of republishing the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, the government has finally acquitted me of illegal “discrimination.” Taxpayers are out more than $500,000 for an investigation that involved fifteen bureaucrats at the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The legal cost to me and the now-defunct Western Standard magazine is $100,000.


This is funny

This is funny.

Well of the country?

There is clearly an undercurrent of prejudice in parts of the electorate, evident even among some Democratic primary voters. There is also massive enthusiasm among younger voters to break the color barrier in the Oval Office, coupled with large increases in African-American primary turnout. These unpredictable factors may well balance in Mr. Obama's favor, which would speak well of the country.

Let's get the obvious out of the way. Racism is bad. And there is some people who won't vote for Hussein because of race, just as there are some people who won't vote for McCain because of race. The former are 99.9% white, the latter is 99.9% black.

Some of the whites will tell you they have watched black politicians in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Congress and other places and found them deeply wanting. Given the definition of racism that is, at best, borderline racism. It is also forming an opinion based on what they know of a person. Given that Hussein is a far Left candidate he has done nothing to nudge these people towards ignoring what they believe based on what they have seen. Indeed his now infamous associations have done the opposite.

I also think it obvious that most blacks will vote for Hussein because he is black. Plus he is a Democrat. I believe the former is racist. The latter is just party affiliation. I don't hold that against black voters. Hussein is a historic candidate and given history, I can see why they will vote for him. He is reaping the same support as O.J.

What I find bothersome though is this from the quote:

There is also massive enthusiasm among younger voters to break the color barrier in the Oval Office, coupled with large increases in African-American primary turnout. These unpredictable factors may well balance in Mr. Obama's favor, which would speak well of the country.

That's just silly. Electing the weaker candidate just because he is black speaks poorly of the judgment of the country. Regardless of his color it will be his judgement and experience that counts when the phone rings at three AM.