Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Jewel of Intellectual Unfreedom

Many of you have possibly already read about The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, a novel about one of Muhammad's wives that was to be published by Random House and had already been chosen as a Book of the Month Club selection. Alas, we'll probably not be able to read the novel. I wouldn't have read it anyway, because Muhammad's romantic life or Muslim views of women hold no interest for me whatsoever, being a more or less liberated twenty-first century woman who is somehow unwilling to abject herself to some man because "The Prophet" told me to. The only annoying thing is why we'll never get to read it--because Random House is afraid to publish it. Some Muslims have complained. They told Random House that the novel might "incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment." The cowards at Random House decided that the potential actions of a bunch of radical Muslim lowlifes was more important than the cause of literature or intellectual freedom. Hardly surprising.

My favorite part of the story was the reaction of a so-called professor at the University of Texas. From the Washington Post article:

According to Natasha Kern, Jones's agent, Spellberg went on to hire an attorney and threatened to sue if her name wasn't taken out of the book's bibliography. "She said it would endanger her family," said Kern, who said Spellberg then contacted several Muslim Web sites and told them to oppose the book's coming publication. Earlier this month, Spellberg wrote in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that the book was "provocative" and followed a tradition of anti-Islamic writings that "use sex and violence to attack the Prophet and his faith." She did not return a phone call or e-mail message for this story.

Wow! Hiring an attorney to get her name out of a bibliography. That must be the first time a professor has ever tried to sue not to get cited. Spellberg must be tenured and not need the citation. Of course she used the time-honored excuse of worrying about her family. She very well might be worried, because the evidence seems to indicate that there are Muslims out there loony enough to go through the bibliography at the end of a novel and systematically kill every one of the living authors. I mean, if you'll wear a bomb and detonate yourself in a public square because you think forty virgins are going to be jumping on you in heaven a moment later, then you're pretty much crazy and stupid enough to be convinced of anything, now aren't you?

I can't sympathize much with this defense, though, considering Spellberg's next action--contacting Muslim websites and telling them about the book. Hardly a purely defensive move there, was it? That was an act of aggression against intellectual freedom. One expects this kind of thing from academia, but it usually comes from the left. Censorship and repression from the right are just as unpleasant. If the book was about Jesus having sex and some Christian professor acted like that, she'd be hooted out of the academy as an anti-intellectual, totalitarian rube she obviously is. Oh well, I guess they like that kind of thing down in Texas.

Does this count as a "challenged" or "banned" book? Probably not, since it's not some parent trying to get a manual of gay sex eliminated from the second grade curriculum in some hole-in-the-wall in Florida. Here we have an actual case of a book not being available at all thanks to the idiotic, illiberal actions of a "professor" and other cowards and morons. Threatened terrorism leading to self-censorship. It's a sad world we live in when we allow liberal values to be overrun by a bunch of violent nuts.

Maybe this book can join the list of so-called "banned books" next month during "Banned" Books Week. Problem is, lots of libraries put up displays of these so-called banned books, but they won't be able to with this one. The totalitarians and religious nuts have won this time. Makes me proud to be an American.

Intellectual freedom means the freedom to think like us.

51 comments:

DirectorWho said...

America, meet the "religion of peace"!

Anonymous said...

Since I haven't read the book (and now won't be able to), I can't comment on the content. One thing that really struck me in the article was when somebody pointed out that Random House knew what the book was about all along. I assume that editors for Random House were involved in shaping it for publication. And then suddenly, they realized that "Oops! lots of people might be deeply offended by this and some of the more extremist among them might react violently." And so they pulled it. As the person in the article said, it's pretty amazing that they hadn't thought of this earlier.

Anonymous said...

But, gorsch, when they go back on their decision and do publish the book, look at all this free publicity. And everyone and every library will want copies to show just how they are not going to get led around by some religious nuts.

Just corporate nuts.

Anonymous said...

To continue anonymous comment 2:38 PM -- in some ways it is too bad that we won't get to read it. But in several places in the Washington Post article it seems to indicate through the opinions of people who did read it that it may not be of great literary quality.

Emily said...

I used to work in publishing (including four years at Random House) and am now a librarian; I find that librarians often conflate their mission with publishers'. Publishers are trying to sell books and make their tiny margin of profit, a mission which sometimes but not always overlaps with making available the finest or most challenging works of literature.

When I worked for the publisher of The Satanic Verses (a book that came out when I was in middle school!), people still talked about the security measures the company had been forced to take, and the European publisher of the novel who'd been shot. (Try the third-to-last paragraph here.)

Paying for huge amounts of extra security isn't a good way to make money, particularly if the book isn't by a high-profile author like Rushdie to begin with. Spellberg sounds like a meddlesome nutcase, but from the point of view of Random House, $100K isn't a huge advance and it was probably easier to just cancel it.

If you think literature and intellectual freedom are very important, then congratulations: you've found in librarianship the right profession. But don't blame book publishers for not having the exact same mission.

DirectorWho said...

I don't think Rushdie was a high-profile author when Satanic Verses came out, was he?
Wasn't it that book that made his career?

Emily said...

He had already won the Booker Prize for Midnight's Children (which most people think is a much better novel anyway...). So in the literary world he was quite well-known and respected although I suppose he wasn't a household name like John Grisham. How many Booker Prize winners can the average American name, though? I'd guess zero.

Anonymous said...

How many Booker Prize winners can the average American name, though?

Well, it ain't important like winning the Super Bowl or anything.

Book in question, Jewel of Medina, was destined for obscurity until some intern over at Random House remember something about a Danish cartoon, and BOOM, they had their marketing campaign.

Dances With Books said...

This is definitely a perfect example of censorship. Too bad I don't run Random House. I'd say bring it on, even if I have to hire Blackwater Guards or something like that for security. Cowardice indeed on their part. But making light aside, it is a very sad commentary when a book is not published because a vocal minority with backwards ideals (to put it mildly) threatens a bomb or two.

I like anon. @ 241's idea: maybe the publisher will publish it after all, riding on the publicity this broo ha ha has made. Hey, in terms of making money as another commenter suggested, what better way to sell a book (which from the sounds of it is not that good in terms of quality) than a little controversy?

Anonymous said...

It is a sad world when we allow people who are not US tell US how to live in ANY way Shape or Form.

THEIR Rules DO NOT Apply HERE!

If they are Offended by US over HERE, They Don't Have to Live here!

Emily said...

"Dances with Books," I know you probably didn't read my previous comments before posting, but I'd like to reiterate that no, this is *not* censorship; it is a business decision. Censorship would be if the state (or whoever) declared that no one could publish the book.

That hasn't happened. In fact, if I were a small gutsy publisher with nothing to lose I'd pick it up right now and piggyback on the free publicity.

Oy vey, I'll try to stop commenting now.

Anonymous said...

"Problem is, lots of libraries put up displays of these so-called banned books, but they won't be able to with this one. The totalitarians and religious nuts have won this time."

No they haven't won. Some library somewhere will have a display with a label indicating the book should have been there but couldn't be because it was 'censored' before publication. Just watch.

Amanda (the librarian) said...

Some library somewhere will have a display with a label indicating the book should have been there but couldn't be because it was 'censored' before publication

Oh, good idea, Anon @ 11:02. I'll do that.

Anonymous said...

I thing the inciteful passage had to do with the 14-yr-old girl's response to "receiving" the 70-yr-old-man into her bed and how she would forever associate that night with the rich, soulful tones of Barry White.

Why we continue to live in a world filled with Barry White related violence, I will never understand. Violence wasn't his message at all.

Anonymous said...

Can you ban a book if it is not published?

Can you enforce censorship on a book if it is not published?

Can you profit greatly if you create artificial controversy?

hmmmmmm

DirectorWho said...

I think you CAN enforce censorship on a book that has not been published -- as long as it has been written and submitted for publication.

I suppose the author could find another publisher, or self-publish it, but she is probably under a binding contract not to do so.

In this case, yes, I would say it is censorship, unless the publisher releases the restriction on the author of finding another publisher.

By the way, great idea of putting a blank space with the name of the book (maybe on an 8 1/2 X 11 piece of construction paper or cardboard?) to show the absence of the book from the collection.

"The Director"

Emily Lloyd said...

This "Shelf Check" Brought to You by Random House

Anonymous said...

The article I read said she was free to seek another publisher. Maybe suppress is a better word than sensor.

As others have said, through, it wouldn't be surprising if this was a ploy to drum up interest.

Anonymous said...

Fingers not working. I meant censor.

Anonymous said...

I never knew that all my ideas, thoughts, typing, books, etc went through Random House.

You would think that I would have known that was happe.................

Brandon said...

Why is not the ALA Intellectual Freedom people raining down death and Hell upon them, I wonder?

j- said...

*a "professor" and other cowards and morons*

Uh-oh! You've just insulted the entire base of the Democrat Party of the United States!

*But in several places in the Washington Post article it seems to indicate through the opinions of people who did read it that it may not be of great literary quality*

Yeah, unlike all the elephant dung Virgin Marys or crucifixes in jars of urine or bullwhips in anuses that passes for art these days.

*Why is not the ALA Intellectual Freedom people raining down death and Hell upon them, I wonder?*

Because Fundy American Christians haven't perfected the art of the suicide truck bomb? Or the quick beheading? Or the "torch the nearest US embassy". Or the...

Anonymous said...

J,

You're a windbag. So, so typical. I could bet my entire salary on what your response would be to anything stated and retire early.

Argh!

mdoneil said...

This is not censorship, it is a business decision.

The publisher does not want to deal with it so they decided not to waste the ink and paper. They cut their losses. Every day businesses decide to drop some project mid-stream.

It sounds like junk anyway.

Anonymous said...

Going completely off the topic of censorship, you may want to do some research on a topic before making a sweeping statement.

"I wouldn't have read it anyway, because Muhammad's romantic life or Muslim views of women hold no interest for me whatsoever, being a more or less liberated twenty-first century woman who is somehow unwilling to abject herself to some man because "The Prophet" told me to."

If you read about the Prophet's treatment of women and his wives, you will see that he was very progressive in respect to women's rights during a time when most women were seen merely as child-bearing property. Any good book (I would recommend books by John L. Esposito or Karen Armstrong) on the history of Islam will provide you with a better understanding of the foundations and beliefs of Islam rather than the fundamentalist Islam (which definitely impedes on women's rights) that the media feeds the public.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, he may be a windbag but I was rolling with laughter for half an hour after his little speel. Well, maybe half an hour, more like 30 seconds, but the two are equivalent in proportionate amounts.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, he may be a windbag but I was rolling with laughter for half an hour after his little speel.

Yeah, but it's only funny once; after that it's a cry.

SafeLibraries.org said...

AL said, "Intellectual freedom means the freedom to think like us."

I am reminded of a Library Journal article where one commenter, a librarian at UC Berkeley, said, "Intellectual freedom as long as you think like they think and support what they say."

I think we now know who AL is! Care to confirm, AL?

Tatjana Versaggi said...

My favorite part of the story was the reaction of a so-called professor at the University of Texas.

I live in Texas and, yes, this is typical. It's a little amusing from an associate professor. Of course it is UT, so she hasn't a toad's breath of a chance to get tenure. Maybe she thought there was not much to lose.
*sigh*
Another proud moment for my Alma Mater... and the place where I live.

Anonymous said...

Safelibraries, you could actually have said that yourself since your posts, on this blog and on others, demonstrate that you have problems with others who don't agree with you.

SafeLibraries.org said...

Really? Cite examples.

Anonymous said...

anon 4:17, don't feed the troll.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11;30

Instead of reading John L. Esposito or Karen Armstrong, may I suggest you read the primary document, the Koran, and the closest secondary sources of Mohammed which all other secondary sources are cited, The Hadith. Their treatment of women is unenlightened.
Privateer6

Anonymous said...

The Jewel of Medina was published in Serbia by Beobook recently, giving rise to much controversy and debate within the local muslim community. It is still in bookshops and can be bought although the unsold copies were asked to be returned by the repented publisher.

Dances With Books said...

I did read the comment. Censorship does not just have to be the state doing it. Get a few thugs together, threaten a bomb or two, a fatwa here or there, an Inquisition now and then, you can achieve the same chilling effect of preventing ideas from circulating. And there is your censorship. Was it really a "business" decision as in "we know this book will likely do poorly and hurt our sales or have no sales" or was it a business decision of "we do not want some wacko terrorist bombing our facilities and hurting our sales"? That Random House went along pretty much up to this point does beg the question. If the book was so bad, they could have rejected it sooner (that's what editors and agents are supposed to be for). Just food for thought.

Anonymous said...

I am being censored by the book industry!

I have submitted my book, "Love and the Single Cataloger" and I have received over 100 censorship letters from publishers. They call them rejection slips, but I know censorship when I see it.

Death to the publishing houses!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Link



I think the AL is the victim of a censor in regards to this list!!!!

We should be outraged.

We should be incensed.

We should be something.

Anonymous said...

"Love and the Single Cataloger"

Oh!Oh! I'll buy that one!!!

Anonymous said...

My book on "Love and the Single Cataloger" was rejected 306.772 times.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the cataloger's love-life (or lack thereof) is being censored! We must unite and self-pubilsh!!!! Can a blog be too far off?

Elisa said...

If a Muslim woman wrote this book, would there be stink raised too?

Brent said...

Maybe it will be en vogue to write Middle Eastern academic papers under the name Anon #1200, for example.

Then when the "War on Terror" is over (ha ha), the author(s) can give permission to have their real identity released. Of course, if I was the editor of that journal, I would want to have the name Editor 1.

It sounds so 1980s East Germany.

Anonymous said...

re: If a Muslim woman wrote this book, would there be stink raised too?

Yes.

SafeLibraries.org said...

FYI:

"Crying Censorship," by Stanley Fish, The New York Times, 24 August 2008.

DirectorWho said...

Hey, just thought:

She could always 'sex' it up and sell it to Harlequin!


"The Director"

Anonymous said...

"If the book was about Jesus having sex and some Christian professor acted like that, she'd be hooted out of the academy as an anti-intellectual, totalitarian rube she obviously is."

And the AL would be making excuses for Christian victim-mongering (Christians and other religions, afterall, are the biggest recepients of PC nonsense) and criticizing the leftist professors who don't properly respect Christianity. AL needs to spend some time in the South and she might be disabused of the idea that most Christians are compartmentalizing Catholics ore methodists.

Anonymous said...

It sucks, reall!

HK said...

Much of what we, Muslims, have of the Prophet's life has been narrated by this very "jewel of Medina", the prophet's youngest wife, 'Aishah. Her status in Islam is, therefore, an honoured one, and the relationship between her and the prophet has been narrated in the most beautiful ways - consider the following, for example:

Aisha (may God be pleased with her) loved the Prophet (peace be upon him) and often would seek reassurance from him that he loved her. Once she asked him, "How is your love for me?"

"Like the rope's knot," he replied meaning that it was strong and secure. And time after time thereafter, she would ask him, "How is the knot?" and he would reply: "Ala haaliha" (in the same condition)


There are many more accounts... for Muslims, (if you read the life of the Prophet in more detail and understand the stance the Prophet took in advocating the rights of women at the time--I know that's difficult for most non-Muslims to wrap their minds around considering what the media feeds us all these days, but consider doing some independent research; by which I mean talking to actual Muslim women and reading the Koran within context), the relationship between him and 'Aisha is the epitome of a true love story... can you then wonder why most of us should be skeptical that someone should distort it by making it a story of sex and violence just to make it "sell"???

Sorry for the long comment, but I guess you didn't much expect that you also have some Muslim readers on here...peace.

AL said...

"can you then wonder why most of us should be skeptical that someone should distort it by making it a story of sex and violence just to make it "sell"???"

Skepticism isn't the problem. Threatening violence is.

Librarian Bill said...

I also worked in publishing before becoming a librarian. To state the obvious, again, the publishers' first obligation is to the stockholders -- to make a profit -- not to publish any particular book. In this case, when the book was sent out for review, (a typical publishing practice), the review was a bad one. The publisher has no particular responsibility to publish a book that gets a bad review. To not publish a poorly reviewed book is not censorhip -- it is simply good business sense. Also, we are talking only of the American rights here -- this book has had rights sold in a number of other countries. It seems to me that people are confusing a publishing company making a perfectly sane & sensible publishing decision to not publish a book that got a bad review with some sort of nefarious censorship. To blame this decision on fear of potential violence seems all in the eyes of the beholder. Indeed, no mention of any actual threat of violence has been made anywhere that I have read. Perhaps those librarians who see this as some sort of craven response to the threat of violence should get some experience with the real world of business.

Kevin M said...

I read the book. The similes and metaphors were brutally assembled, probably using heavy power tools. Honestly, the writing is what made my college writing professors snap, go postal and burrow through lousy students like a badger through a sandtrap. Jones can't write! I find it highly questionable to defend "free speech" when what is challenged was written by a talentless hack. Free speech is one thing, but this piece of sh*t is no better than Piss Christ or the Cow Dung Madonna.

Art should have something to recommend it other than the First Amendment. If that's not the case, then on what grounds do editors and lit agents reject ANYTHING?