The Langum Charitable Trust, which awards annual prizes for historical fiction and legal history or biography, has blacklisted Random House
. No book of that publisher will be able to win one of the prizes because the company cancelled production
of Sherry Jones's novel The Jewel of Medina because management feared angering Muslims. As the company announced, it had sent out advanced copies and received "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."
In other words, Random House caved out of fear. Would some Muslims act in that way? Oh, I'm sure, just as you've seen supposedly Christian groups attack doctors who performed abortions. Jones's book imagined the life of Muhhamed's youngest wife. It may have been fine literature or utter crap - I don't know and likely never will. She's free to seek publication elsewhere, but I wonder whether there was a string that she'd have to return the $100,000 advance she received, and who else at this point is going to pay that sort of money?
The damage is done. Not only has Random House essentially told radical Muslims, and any other group that might threaten to take some action to supress a book, that it will do their bidding, but has helped create an atmosphere in which such people will think that if it worked on one publisher, it will work on any. That's why I have to applaud the words of the Langum Charitable Trust:
"That form of cowardice will only lead to more and more of this form of self-censorship and is an attack on the integrity of literary publication," Langum continued. "We must stand up to it, in whatever ways are available to us. The form that was available to our small foundation was to put Random House out of the running for our prizes."
It's not that I think that creating a novel based on religious figures and a likely complete imagination of what people and cultures were like is necessarily something I would want to read, but it ought to be possible to be published. Giving in to censorship is always a bad idea.
Labels: censorship, Islam, Muslims, Random House, religion