Middle East studies in the News
Controversy Surrounding The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones [incl. Denise Spellberg]
There is a controversy bouncing around the internet about the book deal being cancelled for The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones. I thought I would provide a link to the first chapter that was published on SmartBitchesTrashyBooks. There is also a great discussion going on there. You can click here to read the first chapter and you can click here to read the discussion on the website. The following was a post from Publishers Lunch today about the controversy. You can read Sherry Jones responses at her website here.
The Novel About Muhammed Cancelled by Ballantine
A WSJ opinion column by Asra Nomani recounts the events that produced Ballantine's cancellation in May of Sherry Jones's debut novel THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, "a tale of lust, love and intrigue in the prophet Muhammed's harem." Nomani says "the series of events that torpedoed this novel are a window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world."
Random House Group deputy publisher Tom Perry says that 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." They postponed 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." Last month a termination agreement was executed so that agent Natasha Kern could shop the book to other publishers.
The column attributes the beginning of the protests to associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin Denise Spellberg, who says "You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography." Spellberg, after reviewing a galley sent for review and endorsement, spoke with someone who runs an e-mail list; that alert was expanded upon by a blogger, which led to someone posting as Ali Hemani iterating a seven-point strategy to make sure "the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise [sic] all the muslims across the world."
After the posting, Spellberg (who publishes with Knopf) alerted editor Jane Garrett to what she viewed as potential danger: "Denise says it is ‘a declaration of war . . . explosive stuff . . . a national security issue.' Thinks it will be far more controversial than the satanic verses and the Danish cartoons." Three weeks later Libby McGuire informed the author and agent the book was postponed indefinitely for "fear of a possible terrorist threat from extremist Muslims" and concern for "the safety and security of the Random House building and employees."
More From Author of Cancelled Novel
We've heard from Sherry Jones, author of THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, the novel cancelled by Ballantine covered in yesterday's Lunch.
Jones tells us that "because of my termination agreement with Random House, I am prohibited from commenting on the circumstances surrounding that termination." But from her perspective, "Despite Random House's statement, I'm not aware of any warnings of possible terrorist attack from any other source than Denise Spellberg. I know that Shahed Amanullah's email had nothing to do with any of this, because I was the one who discovered it, and the resulting discussion, on the Husaini Youths website.
"Although I've been aware from the start that my books might offend some people, I've never been afraid of physical harm because of them. I wrote these books because I felt called to write them after researching A'isha for my own purposes. My passion for her story trumps the fear factor. I've expected controversy, yes, but never terrorism."
Separately, Jones writes on her blog that "all I did was try to portray A'isha, Muhammad's child bride (believed by most historians to have married Muhammad at age nine and consummated the marriage at age 11) in the context of her times."
As to Spellberg's charge that the novel is "soft porn," Jones replies: "There are no sex scenes in this book. The novel, whose bibliography includes 29 scholarly and religious books, is a work of serious historic fiction detailing the origins of Islam through the eyes of the Prophet Muhammad's youngest wife. It's a book about women's relationships and experiences at a time in history when a religion was being founded in the midst of conflict."
Separately, agent Natasha Kern says that she will have news of foreign rights sales for the book to announce shortly.
Random House supplied us with their full statement to the Wall Street Journal, and deputy publisher Tom Perry "underscore[s] that our decision was not based solely on the opinions of Ms. Spellberg."
The publisher says that after distributing galleys of the book, they 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.
"We felt an obligation to take these concerns very seriously. We consulted with security experts as well as with scholars of Islam, whom we asked to review the book and offer their assessments of potential reactions.
"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, and in this instance we decided, after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House,
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