The Jewel of Medi(n)a

If you check the US site for Sherry Jones’ novel The Jewel of Medina that was to be published earlier this month by Random House, you will get a page that offers Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, R.A. Montgomery’s The Lost Jewels of Nabooti, several volumes of the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, and even Peter E. Thompson’s The Triumphant Juan Rama: A Gay Actor of the Spanish Golden Age, but no Sherry Jones novel. In its infinite, if random (strange word to use here) wisdom, Amazon will however ask you if you did not mean to type The Jewel of Media? Well, no, I didn’t. I’d wanted to see what ever happened to the long-announced book by Jones, a historical novel on the life of Prophet Muhammad’s child-wife `A’ishah. Now, on Amazon UK you do find an entry, with cover photo — see above — and the indication that “this title has not yet been released.” The problem is that the title will not be released because its US publisher Random House has decided that it needed to be suppressed as it may offend some Islamic people. Unless you check the New York Times, our paper of reference or jewel of media, very, very carefully, you would not have found this out there: the paper published a brief note in the Arts Briefly section on 8 August which you can read here. Nothing more, except to note on August 19 just as briefly that the Serbian edition of the book of which a thousand copies had been printed, had been pulled back for the same reason.

It doesn’t surprise me too much that Random House (and/or its owner, the German conglomerate Bertelsman) did indulge in such an act of blatant censorship, though I am surprised that the US “liberal” press has in no way reacted to that act. (The german press is a bit better: this morning the Frankfurter Rundschau publishes a piece by Jones herself, which you can read — in German, I was not able to locate the English version — here).This is mind boggling indeed, but, I guess, par for the course in the age of Bush II where actual acts of war are condoned while a multinational corporation’s vague sense that the publication of a book could “incite violence” and therefore justifies censorship is not even questioned. Below the Randon House statement, for your edification. That Jones’ novel may not be a major literary achievement is quite possible (you can read the prologue here), that even specialists in Islamic studies might disagree with Jones’ book is more than likely, but none of that justifies either the suppression of the book or the media silence that has followed this (not so) Random act of intellectual violence.

After sending out advance editions of the novel THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, we received in response, 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, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel. The author and Ballantine subsequently agreed to terminate the agreement, with the understanding that the author would be free to publish elsewhere, if she so chose.

The Random House Publishing Group

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