"I am very disappointed to hear that my publishers, Random House, have canceled another author's novel, apparently because of their concerns about possible Islamic reprisals. This is censorship by fear, and it sets a very bad precedent indeed."
This is the comment from Salmon Rushdie about the decision at Random House to "postpone indefinitely" the publishing of a book that was to have been released on 12 August, Sherry Jones' The Jewel of Medina, a novel about the 11-year-old wife of Muhammad.
If Random House had rejected Jones' manuscript I would have no complaint. But they accepted it, they paid her $100,000, and the book is now in print. Random House decided not to publish because of the warnings of an academic at the University of Texas, Denise Spellberg, who called it a "very ugly, stupid piece of work." (Not exactly a nuanced review.) Spellberg warned that
"publication would expose Random House employees to Islamic terrorism and that Muslims would react with the kind of violence seen in past controversies over The Satanic Verses and the Jyllands-Posten Danish cartoons."
And so Random House canceled publication:
"We stand firmly by our responsibility to support our authors," said Random House, "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, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel."
I think Sara Nelson said it best in this week's Publisher's Weekly:
"When Peter Mayer stoutly defended Viking's obligation to stand by Salman Rushdie, it was 20 years ago. It was a brave move, one true to publishing's version of the Hippocratic oath. But that was then. The new now is a a post-9/11, 'war on terrorism' now. Should a publisher alter its behavior, its core values, because of changing realities? Terrorists would love to think so."