Nytt

Random House har trukket tilbake en roman om Muhammeds yndlingskone Aisha, som han giftet seg med som jentunge, melder Reuters (Random House pulls novel on Islam, fears violence). Boken – The Jewel of Medina av Sherry Jones, skulle etter planen vært publisert 12. august og en rundtur til åtte byer var avtalt. Alt er nå kansellert. At det skjer så tett opptil publisering sier noe om hvilken panikk som har grepet forlaget.

Asra Q. Nomani hadde en grundig artikkel i Wall Street Journal med den megetsigende titte: You Still Can’t write about Mohammad. Random House har hatt god tid til å tenke seg om. De inngikk kontrakt i fjor og var så begeistret at de betalte 100.000 dollar.

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.
[You Still Can’t Write About Muhammad]
Corbis

It’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.

En av lederne for Random House, Thomas Perry, sier de sendte ut forhåndskopier av boken. Tilbakemeldingene de fikk var av en slik karakter at de fryktet en ny Sataniske Vers.

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.»

Men hvem var disse alarmistene? Eller var de seriøse og saklige? Er boken «farlig»?

Den første som slo alarm var en professor ved Texas University, Denise Spellberg, som ikke bare slo alarm, men brukte alle kontakter til å få boken stanset.

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.

In an interview, Ms. Spellberg told me the novel is a «very ugly, stupid piece of work.» The novel, for example, includes a scene on the night when Muhammad consummated his marriage with Aisha: «the pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life.» Says Ms. Spellberg: «I walked through a metal detector to see ‘Last Temptation of Christ,'» the controversial 1980s film adaptation of a novel that depicted a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. «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 core pornography.»

After he got the call from Ms. Spellberg, Mr. Amanullah dashed off an email to a listserv of Middle East and Islamic studies graduate students, acknowledging he didn’t «know anything about it [the book],» but telling them, «Just got a frantic call from a professor who got an advance copy of the forthcoming novel, ‘Jewel of Medina’ — she said she found it incredibly offensive.» He added a write-up about the book from the Publishers Marketplace, an industry publication.

Det kan synes som om en bestemt gruppe mennesker i Vesten kan utnytte auraen av tabu som muslimer har lykkes å omgi bestemte symboler med, slik at de selv kan sole seg i dem. Det gir makt, oppmerksomhet. Man gjør andres tabuer til sine egne, og siden man kommer fra en annen kultur, kan man gjøre spesielt mye for å understreke hvor krenkende et kunstverk er. Spelberg virker å høre hjemme i en film av Stanley Kubrick.

Når man først har lykkes å bruke sin posisjon til å lage oppstyr, overtar andre stafettpinnen. Muslimske aktivister kan love at bydeler og ambassder vil brenne. Da er det ikke rart forlagsfolk blir litt nervøse. De får det fra to kanter.

The next day, a blogger known as Shahid Pradhan posted Mr. Amanullah’s email on a Web site for Shiite Muslims — «Hussaini Youth» — under a headline, «upcoming book, ‘Jewel of Medina’: A new attempt to slander the Prophet of Islam.» Two hours and 28 minutes after that, another person by the name of Ali Hemani proposed a seven-point strategy to ensure «the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims across the world.»

I tråd med krigføringens prinsipper, satte Spellberg inn sitt støt mot Random ved å ringe kontakter i forlaget. Også Spellberg manet frem bilde av vold og trusler. Det var nok til at Random kapitulerte.

Meanwhile back in New York City, Jane Garrett, an editor at Random House’s Knopf imprint, dispatched an email on May 1 to Knopf executives, telling them she got a phone call the evening before from Ms. Spellberg (who happens to be under contract with Knopf to write «Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an.»)

«She thinks there is a very real possibility of major danger for the building and staff and widespread violence,» Ms. Garrett wrote. «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. Does not know if the author and Ballantine folks are clueless or calculating, but thinks the book should be withdrawn ASAP.» («The Jewel of Medina» was to be published by Random House’s Ballantine Books.) That day, the email spread like wildfire through Random House, which also received a letter from Ms. Spellberg and her attorney, saying she would sue the publisher if her name was associated with the novel. On May 2, a Ballantine editor told Ms. Jones’s agent the company decided to possibly postpone publication of the book.

Slik forgår Vestens frihet. Det er mulig å se strategien bak – hvor folk har forskjellige roller. Det trues alltid med vold. Det er nå nok å true før et stort vestlig forlag trekker en bok. Vi er på full fart bakover.

You Still Can’t Write
About Muhammad

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