Wednesday, October 1, 2008

'censorship by fear' over The Jewel of Medina

A Book, about Love, Romance and the Prophet of Islam has been put aside from publication.
Random House decided to not publish a novel about one of Mohammed's wives, "The Jewel of Medina," by Sherry Jones. The publisher was afraid of inciting violence.
The novel was scheduled to be published on August 12, 2008. The Book of the Month Club had agreed to feature the novel in its August 2008 issue, and Quality Paperback Book Club was due to follow suit in January 2009. The novel's original marketing blurb read, "Married at nine to the much-older Muhammad, Aisha uses her wits, her courage, and her sword to defend her first-wife status even as Muhammad marries again and again, taking 12 wives and concubines in all."

Random House bought the novel last year in a two-book deal worth a reported $100,000 (£53,000). However, Random House deleted it from its list. The deputy publisher, Thomas Perry, said the company had received “cautionary advice” that the book “could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment”.
"We stand firmly by our responsibility to support our authors and the free discussion of ideas, even those that may be construed as offensive by some. However, a publisher must weigh that responsibility against others that it also bears," the group said in a statement.
"In this instance we decided, after much deliberation, 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."

The spotlight soon fell not on a radical Muslim cleric but on an American academic, Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas. Ms Spellberg had been sent an advance copy of The Jewel of Medina for review. She strongly objected to the fictionalised account of A'isha's life. She reportedly described the book as incredibly offensive, poorly researched and strewn with "soft-core" pornographic scenes.
The author denies claims that her 400-page novel is a racy bodice-ripper.
Any reader in the first hand would comment on the news that ‘ we want peace, let it not publish’. But shall we have the peace really? How many times it will be recurring. It is not the matter of one or two issues.
If we keep quiet in anticipation of fear our every attempt for free expression will be thwarted and we do two fold mistakes. One is we encourage "a small, radical segment" of Islam that's casting the shadow of killing over this whole world. Another is we are proving we are weak against this demoniac force, it would belittle our own faith, strength and courage. It cannot be accepted.

Peace does not mean prostrating before a diabolical force. It approves also an action against opposition and elimination of root of evil for future harmonious living .I must not offend you. But I have a right to exercise my self defence, I should not also listen your grudging every time I act. Because I follow the rules the whole world follows. You must honour the principles the whole world holds.

I did not see anything involving Buddhism, Hinduism or other faiths as it happened in respectively to the following cases. Thirty years ago, Syrian film maker Moustapha Akkad made a movie about the life of the Prophet Muhammad entitled The Message. Even though, acceding the Muslim sensibilities, Muhammad never actually appears in the film, a rumor that Charlton Heston would star as the Prophet caused riots in Pakistan.
The British teacher who was demonized for having a teddy bear in class named Mohammed? Or the Danish editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb? And More recently, the publication of The Satanic Verses, a novel by Salman Rushdie, resulted in a bounty placed on the life of the author by the Ayatollah Khomeini in the form of a religious fatwa. The fatwa resulted in at least one attempt on the life of Rushdie by the Hezbollah and huge sales for The Satanic Verses.

What's so offensive, so heinous about Ms. Jones' novel?
It's about A'isha, Mohammed's child bride who remained with him until his death. Ms. Jones called it "a great love story" focusing on the woman Mohammed called his favorite wife, and in whose arms he died. "I have deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Mohammed ... I envisioned that my book would be a bridge-builder," Ms. Jones told the Reuters news agency.

In a Wall Street Journal commentary, Muslim writer Asra Q. Nomani said, "All this saddens me. Literature moves civilizations forward, and Islam is no exception."
Shahed Amanulah, editor-in-chief of, a Web site that helps promote critical analysis and discussion of issues about the Muslim world, wrote: "Anyone should have the right to publish whatever they want about Islam or Muslims — even if their views are offensive — without fear of censorship or retribution. Muslims, however, shouldn't be expected to be passive consumers of these views. An offended Muslim has the right — indeed, the responsibility — to vigorously critique anything written about them or their religion, provided they do not cross the line into intimidation and coercion. In an ideal world, both parties would open their minds enough to understand the other point of view."

When it comes to depictions of religious figures, and the freedom of expression in telling stories that revolve around them, there is a vast gulf between Islam and the rest of the world. And this is not expected, for better solidarity and harmony among nations.

Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons" proved offensive to the Catholic church, even drew the church's condemnation for both books and subsequent movies. Yet both novels were published, both have been bestsellers, and most people have sense enough to realize while they may be intriguing tales, they're fiction. Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ" created controversy, even offended Jews for its depiction of them. Yet the movie was released and people were able to make their own decisions on whether or not to see it. As one blogger put it, novelist Anne Rice, best known for her vampire books, can now write about Jesus, but Ms. Jones can't write about Mohammed or one of his wives.

It's hard enough for people in the West to understand Islam when the predominant image they have is that of enraged radicals in the streets calling for the blood of writers or artists or filmmakers who have offended them. Mention Islam or Muslims, and the first thing to come to mind is the radical minority, whom some argue have hijacked the entire religion. One of the ways people can understand another culture is through the arts, through the recounting of stories in a popular format such as novels or movies, especially when attention is paid to factual information and details in the telling of the stories. More people are likely to read a novel featuring Islam than read the Qur'an, with the former possibly igniting an interest to know more about the latter.

To me, I think the guardians of Islam should be thoughtful and accept the freedom of expression for a better understanding and harmony among nations. If they do so, they will be more benefited in positive way in winning the heart of the globe than their death edict and killing fields.

Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, criticized Random House for the decision, saying, “I am very disappointed to hear that my publishers, Random House, have cancelled another author's novel, apparently because of their concerns about possible Islamic reprisals,” Rushdie said , "This is censorship by fear and it sets a very bad precedent indeed."
The withdrawal of Jones's book has renewed the debate over self-censorship in the treatment of Islam.
Andrew Franklin, who worked for Penguin Books when they published The Satanic Verses and is now the publisher of Profile Books, described the decision as "absolutely shocking" and called the Random House editors "such cowards". Geoffrey Robertson, who received terrorist threats for representing Rushdie, said that Random House should pay Jones "substantial compensation" and recommended that the book be placed on a website "so everyone can read it".

On September 5, 2008, it was announced that American publisher Beaufort Books (previously best known as the publishers of If I Did It by O. J. Simpson) would publish The Jewel of Medina in America. According to Jones' agent, Natasha Kern, "about a dozen" other publishers had expressed interest in the novel. Beaufort's president, Eric Kampmann, said in a press release, “We are building a great team to bring The Jewel of Medina to the audience it deserves to have. Everyone at Beaufort is proud to be associated with this ground breaking novel.”

The cover of the Serbian edition, the only official edition of the book so far.

So far, the book has officially been published only in Serbia, in August 2008. After strong reactions from the Serbian Muslim community, Serbian publisher Beobook has withdrawn it from stores, but after a few weeks, the publisher decided to return it to the stores because of a large number of pirate copies of the book.
Publishers in Italy, Spain, Hungary, Germany, Brazil, Russia, Republic of Macedonia, Denmark, Finland and Poland have purchased rights to the book, while negotiations are ongoing with publishers in Sweden and the Netherlands.

The Jewel of Medina is a first-person narrative of the life of A'isha, often described as Muhammad's favourite wife, from her engagement to the Prophet at the age of 6 until his death, when she was 18. and was promised to him when she was just six years old. They married when she was nine and he was 52.
Jones says Aisha's story is an exciting tale of love, war, spiritual awakening and redemption. The author avoids graphic sex scenes between the two. But A'isha says: “This was the beginning of something new, something terrible. Soon I would be lying on my bed beneath him, squashed like a scarab beetle, flailing and sobbing while he slammed himself against me. He would not want to hurt me, but how could he help it? It's always painful the first time.” The Wall Street Journal published this excerpt about the wedding night of Muhammad and his young bride, Aisha: "the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life."
“They did have a great love story,” the author said of Muhammad and A'isha. “He died with his head on her breast.”
In a press release, Gibson Square publisher Martin Rynja added, "I was bowled over by the novel and the moving love story and interesting but unknown history it portrays. I was struck by the research of Sherry Jones, who is a journalist with almost 30 years of experience, her literary imagination and passion for the novel’s characters”

Jones provided the manuscript of The Jewel of Medina to Islamic website, where the novel was reviewed by writer and poet Marwa Elnaggar.
Elnaggar argues that despite the novel's "inaccuracies, its faults, and its biases," its publication should not be stopped.
Indian Muslim writer Farzana Versey criticized Jones' prose and perspective, based on the published excerpts "It would be unfair to tar the whole book based on the Prologue, but it gives a credible peek into the language and lack of nuance the author employs. ...
Jones and her novel, “The Jewel of Medina,” are subjects of debate from Egypt to Italy to Serbia, where 1,000 Serbian-language copies were printed before the local publisher backed out, too.

Who sherry jones:
Sherry Jones (46) was a a journalist with almost 30 years of experience, she was also Montana newspaper reporter who dreamed she could contribute to world peace with a novel about the prophet Muhammad and his feminist leanings. Then she wrote it. Today? She’s the target of a Serbian mufti and a Middle Eastern studies professor with a lawyer.

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