Thursday, August 07, 2008

Did Random House Chicken Out?

According to the Wall Street Journal, no less, publisher Random House has decided that it wants no part of anything that might offend Muslim sensitivities, even a novel it bought and paid for and was scheduled to publish in just a few days.

This is scary stuff, to be sure. And I don't mean the possibility that radical Islamists might decide to cause Random House and booksellers a little grief with a bunch of insane threats again, a la Satanic Verses. No, the scary part for me is that a giant publishing house (now German owned) like Random House is willing to let even that remote possibility push it into censoring itself beforehand. Has Islam become such a fierce threat to the world that no one dares offend the religion or criticize it, even in literary fiction? Apparently Random House votes a resounding "yes" on that question.
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.

t'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.
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.
Read the whole article for all the nasty details regarding this University of Texas "academic," Denise Spellberg, and the efforts she went through to stir up the radical Muslim element that would result in Random House's cowardly decision to kill the book.

This is sad because Spellberg appears to be just another misguided professor whose actions will ultimately lead to the destruction of everything that makes this country a great one. The saddest thing is that people who think like her are a dime a dozen at our major universities because of the radical leftist political thought that now dominates those institutions. I simply cannot believe that we trust our youth in the hands of "teachers" like this woman.


  1. Hey Sam, you know the saying that goes something like: We see the world not as it is, but as we are?
    So why would a big publishing house delay publication on the opinion of one Asso-Prof? They'd already edited, proofed, sent out ARCs -- would they really have postponed over one bad comment? It makes me wonder if we're getting the whole story.

  2. My anonymous friend from Glasgow, you're going to have to explain that "Molita" comment because I have no idea what you're trying to say.

  3. slle, apparently this woman stirred up the insane hornets of radical Islam and the blowback intimidated Random House into shutting down publication of the book. It just shows how much harm one little, unknown piss ant in Austin, Texas, can do if she has contacts with people crazy enough to want to kill someone over words. She's a sad case.

  4. Censorship is wrong -- plain and simple. It's wrong in this case, and it's wrong when well-meaning people attempt to ban books in public or school libraries because they find them offensive. Freedom of speech is freedom of speech -- for everyone. I wonder if people will ever figure out that they just don't have to read a book if it offends them. They don't have to decide for the rest of us.

  5. Well, I certainly want one of those ARCs! And I love the cover.

  6. Sam, you are linguistically impaired, slow at the draw, whatever. Lolita, with "M" for Mohammed, becomes a little joke here, "Molita". Does that take a degree in acrostics, or what?

  7. I wouldn't call Spellberg a leftist---a real leftist would know that Islamic laws violate human rights.

    The fact is, if the book had been published the author's life would have been in serious danger without Spellberg's help. Spellberg is not the problem. The problem is people who think God wants them to kill people in order to defend God's "honour."

  8. Yeah, this Spellberg person is clearly limited in perspective and capacity. What's really a shame is that she just got herself so much press.

    @Anonymous: except Lolita referred to the object of affection, and not the holder of it (I'd call her an ingenue, but she wasn't that innocent). So it really wasn't nearly as clever as you seem to think.

  9. I completely agree with you, Lisa...are there any bigger cowards than those who fear words, freedom of thought and debate?

  10. I'm looking for one of those now, myself, Jenclair...they are probably out of my price range by now, however. :-)

    I would LOVE to get hold of one so that I could write a detailed review of the book and post it here.

  11. Anonymous, my friend, I see what you were trying to say, but a one-word throwaway post makes it a bit difficult to place your little inside joke into its proper, recognizable context.

    These days, there are plenty of names that could have meaning for some obscure reason I haven't snapped to yet, "Molita," possibly being one such name.

    Sorry my being so slow disappointed you because it kept me from immediately responding with the proper level of praise for your cleverness that you obviously think you so deserve.

    I promise to practice on my draw until I reach your level of quickness, so I'm begging you for another chance. :-)

  12. Sylvia, I agree with you on the problem of those wanting to kill in order to defend God's good name.

    But I can't agree with you on Spellberg. This woman knew where the ant bed was because she is so obviously in bed with the ants...and she took her little stick and stirred them up, making them doubly dangerous to the author, publisher, booksellers, etc.

    She knew exactly what she was doing and she should be ashamed of herself but I'm sure that a woman like her knows no shame.

  13. Blog, I agree that it's a shame to give this woman so much press but I'm hoping that enough of it will be negative that she gets the message that she is a bigot, because she is one.

    The University of Texas has more than its share of these airhead professors and assistant profs, unfortunately.

    Thanks for your critique on Mr. Anon's play on names. I'm so slow that I hadn't thought of that particular rebuttal.

  14. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Sam. (I've been off-line getting married over the weekend.)

    I cannot pass judgement on the professor from Texas, but I am surprised that Random House never saw any red flags prior to this. A racy book about the wife of the prophet. Do those editors live in a cave??? If you're not prepared to stand up against the throng you shouldn't taunt them like that.

    That said, one should be able to publish and attempt to sell whatever one wants too. I believe all newspapers in the world that didn't print the Danish cartoons should hang their heads in shame.

    By the way, I am a liberal teacher. Radical leftist, too.

  15. Congratulations on the marriage, C.B.

    From what I understand about the book, it is not nearly as "racy" as it is being made out to be. The author denies that, as does her early-teen daughter who has read the whole thing.

    I sincerely believe that the U.T. prof stirred this whole thing up well beyond anything that would have happened had she not set out to cause these problems for the publisher.

    I agree with you that Random House should have been better prepared for something like this to happen than they were...and that they should have never paid the advance if they had even the slightest doubts about actually publishing the book. That is bad business for all involved.

    Thanks for confessing your occupation and political leanings - you're always welcome here despite those. :-)