Nearly three years ago, Iraq held historic parliamentary elections. Millions
of Iraqi voters shrugged off the threat of Al-Qaida suicide bombers and
pro-Saddam reactionaries. They headed to the polls in heavy number,
proving their courage and commitment to democratic values. Sadly, both qualities were absent in Random House's decision last May to cancel publication of "The Jewel of Medina," a novel by journalist Sherry Jones.
Egged on by a politically correct professor of Islamic studies,
publishing executives feared the novel could provoke the kind of
violent backlash among Muslims that was touched off by Salman
Rushdie's 1988 novel "Satanic Verses." And they nervously recalled the
Danish "cartoon riots" in Europe and the Muslim world, too. The
full story of Random House's cowardly self-censorship -- a story of how
"fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world" -- was the
subject of a Wednesday Op-Ed column in the Wall Street Journal by Asra Q. Nomani,
the noted Muslim journalist and author. In her column, Nomani described
a depressing story of intellectual cowardice and academic perfidy among
members of America's intellectual elite. Jones' canceled novel focuses
on Aisha, a young wife of the prophet Muhammad. Some of the novel's
scenes are described as being "racy" in the tradition of the
controversial film "The Last Temptation of Christ, based on the novel
by Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis;" the film portrays Jesus and Mary
Magdalene as a married couple consummating their union. In her column, "You Still Can't Write About Muhammad," Nomani related:
Who was the source for this ominous warning?
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."
was a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Texas in
Austin, Denise Spellberg, whom Jones had innocently thought might write
a blub for the book. Instead, the professor hated it. She regarded it
as an "ugly, stupid piece of work"--- one that "made fun of Muslims
and their history," according to Nomani's account. Indeed, the
professor thought the book could prove to be a "declaration of war...a
national security issue" much worse than the violence provoked by the
"Satanic Verses" and Danish "cartoon riots".
reveals a bit about Prof. Spellberg's academic background. But the most
revealing profile of her may be found at her own webpage at
the University of Texas. Not surprisingly, she earned her PhD in
Islamic Studies from Columbia University in New York City -- a place
where radical leftists and advocates of the pro-Palestinian cause
(including the late Prof. Edward Said), have for years gotten a warm
welcome. Among her recent publications: "Inventing Matamoras: Gender
and the Forgotten Islamic Past in the United States of America."
recalled going to the "Last Temptation of Christ," released in 1988.
She was quoted as saying: "I walked through a metal detector to see
'Last Temptation of Christ.' I don't have a problem with historical
fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of
history. You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft
funny. I went to "Last Temptation of Christ," too. But there were no
metal dictators at the theater in southwestern Connecticut where I saw
the film. But I do recall standing in a long line on a chilly and
drizzly evening. Near the theater door, movie-goers walked past a
polite and gentle Baptist minister. He was obviously outraged by the
film. Yet he wished me and other movie-goers well. He handed me some
literature that he said I might want to read. As much as I disagreed
with him, I could not help but respect him. He had quiet dignity. There
was no anger in his voice or demeanor.
that Iraq is becoming increasingly calm, perhaps Prof. Spellberg and
Random House's editors should visit Iraq and talk with ordinary Iraqis.
If they learn nothing from their courage and convictions, perhaps they
will at least become aware of their own perfidy and cowardice -- and
Then again, maybe they'll see only want they want to see.