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Random House and the Islamic War against Free Speech By: Robert Spencer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 22, 2008

Although when Random House canceled publication of Sherry Jones’ trashy novel about Muhammad’s nine-year-old wife, Aisha, it was succumbing not to actual threats but to the sheer prospect of threats, no one has accused the venerable publisher of “Islamophobia.” Even in today’s hyper-politically correct public square, everyone seems to take for granted that when certain Muslims don’t like something, they threaten to murder the people involved. Random House’s pre-emptive self-censorship constitutes tacit recognition of what Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Secretary General of Organization of the Islamic Conference, recently termed the “red lines that should not be crossed” -- lines he was dictating to the West. “In confronting the Danish cartoons and the Dutch film ‘Fitna’,” Ihsanoglu declared, “we sent a clear message to the West regarding the red lines that should not be crossed. As we speak, the official West and its public opinion are all now well aware of the sensitivities of these issues. They have also started to look seriously into the question of freedom of expression from the perspective of its inherent responsibility, which should not be overlooked.”

Random House paid $100,000 for Sherry Jones’ racy historical novel about Muhammad and his nine-year-old wife, Aisha, The Jewel of Medina, only to withdraw the book just days before its scheduled August 12 publication date. Random House deputy publisher Thomas Perry explained that they decided to drop the book after receiving, “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.” They 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.”

Sherry Jones is an unlikely candidate to be the next Salman Rushdie, and her novel is hardly in the same league as Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ film Fitna, which vividly depicted Muslims acting upon the dictates of the Qur’an’s violent passages. The Jewel of Medina, by contrast, is a Harlequin Romance-level trivialization of Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, luridly depicting the child as finding, at the moment of the consummation of her marriage to Muhammad, “the bliss I had longed for all my life” – yes, her entire nine years.

But Islamic jihadists seem to have little patience for semi-erotic children’s fiction. They are indignant over Jones’s book not because its depiction of the prophet of Islam having sex with a child is inaccurate – the most respected sources of Islamic tradition say he did that. Rather, what apparently angers them is that the novel makes this known. The ordinary understanding of slander in the West is that it involves making false charges that defame another person. But in Islamic law, the definition of slander doesn’t involve falsehood. The Shafi’i manual of Islamic law ‘Umdat al-Salik defines “slander” as “to mention anything concerning a person that he would dislike.” Nothing is said about whether or not what is said is true -- only that the person would dislike it. And this is based on a statement of Muhammad to the same effect.

Muslim anger over The Jewel of Medina is now international. Muamer Zukorlic, leader of the Islamic Community in Serbia (where the novel was published but then hastily taken off bookstore shelves) said that the book was “offensive to Muslims” and that its withdrawal was not enough. The publisher, he said, “needs to sincerely repent because of the incident he caused” – and he compared the controversy to the international unrest over Danish cartoons of Muhammad in 2006: “Obviously someone wishes to join the ranks of those who produced the cartoons in Denmark several years ago and it is an insult to all Muslims of the world, especially for us here in Serbia.”

All this makes it imperative that someone have the courage to publish the book – not because it has any merit, but as a signal that the West will not be intimidated into abandoning the freedom of speech. It is becoming increasingly common for Americans to bow to pressure from Muslims to accommodate Islamic practices and mores, and for the specter of violence to inhibit discussion of the elements of Islam that jihadists use to justify terrorism. Where will all this accommodation end? It will not end until America is a Sharia state, unless enough Americans begin to resist. And in the meantime, how many of our freedoms and rights will we allow to be eroded away before we stand up and call a halt to this?

For Random House to have axed Jones’s book, as silly and stupid as it is, because of the possibility of violence is only to reinforce the idea that when it comes to speaking about Islam, there are certain lines that non-Muslim Westerners must not cross. And with that lesson re-taught, our freedoms will continue to erode.

Robert Spencer is a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of eight books, eleven monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book, Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs, is available now from Regnery Publishing.

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