Give Them an Inch and They'll Dictate Your Book Contract

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Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Asra Q. Nomani, author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam, relates the story of novelist Sherry Jones, who "toiled weekends on a racy historical novel about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad," a tale of "lust, love and intrigue in the prophet's harem." Last year Random House purchased the book, The Jewel of Medina, and slated it for release on August 12. That is until an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Texas, Austin, Denise Spellberg, was asked to review the manuscript and objected. She was, a friend said, "very upset," claiming that the book "made fun of Muslims and their history." She told the Journal that "You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography," citing a passage which describes Aisha's consummation of her love for Muhammad.

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."

Random House followed Spellberg's advice and cancelled the book, acknowledging that they suspended production because not only could The Jewel of Medina prove "offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment." It is a massive victory for people like Ali Hemani, a blogger quoted in the Journal story who "proposed a seven-point strategy to ensure 'the writer withdraws this book from the stores and apologise all the muslims (sic) across the world.'" Well Ali, I assure you that Random House deeply regrets any anguish it caused by almost publishing a novel you have never read…

It is touching that Spellberg has appointed herself arbiter of what offends American Muslims, and it's rather amusing to see the author of the essay "Writing the Unwritten Life of the Islamic Eve: Menstruation and the Demonization of Motherhood"  so desperate to protect the delicate sensibilities of religious fundamentalists. Thanks to Spellberg, the world is just a little bit safer and we shall all get on just fine with the extremist nutters. No harm, no foul.

Let us hope that The Jewel of Medina gets picked up by another publisher—one that takes seriously the threat to free speech people like Hemani and Spellberg represent.  

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  1. Writing the Unwritten Life of the Islamic Eve: Menstruation and the Demonization of Motherhood

    Oh, liberal arts.

  2. “You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography,”
    What the fuck does that statement even mean? Of course you can. And does she think that Mohammed never had sex with his wives?

  3. “You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography,”

    Of course you can.

  4. “You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography,”

    Uh, why not?

  5. Fuck this guy and all who think like him.

  6. I mean that literally. That dude needs to get laid.

  7. Time for Stagliano or somebody else to do a completely hardcore “interpretation” of Mohammed’s harem. No skimping on the a2m, fisting, and water sports please.

  8. In seeking vengeance against this travesty of puritanical Muslim mores, I propose posting bounties for gay furry slash involving Muhammad in fic writing communities.

    I myself will be making arrangements tonight.

  9. I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting.

    Muhammad had a small dick, too.

  10. This is another excuse for the hordes of Muslim-bashers to get active; can’t these Muslims figure out that they’re losing the PR war? Maybe if they relaxed a bit, the Michelle Malkin types won’t have something to froth about.

  11. There’s always self-publishing. The uproar would sell copies all by itself, and there would be no publisher to split the royalties with.

  12. Well, I’ve never seen “The Last Temptation of Christ,” but, based on the information here, why in hell is that movie considered acceptable “historical fiction” (when many Christians maintain that Jesus never married, much less had sex) while The Jewel of Medina is soft-core porn (though all Muslims are agreed, presumably, that Mahomet not only married but had lots of sex)?

    What kind of BS double-standard is this? Oh, yeah. There aren’t any Christian suicide bombers. I forgot.

  13. I’m not sure this is a “free speech” issue exactly, though it’s definitely a problem that businesses feel they have to make decisions based on the fear of violent responses.

    That brief excerpt does make the book sound absolutely horribly written, like there might actually be better reasons not to publish it.

    Great, now I want to read it to see how bad it might be.

  14. Shame on Random House.
    Crap like this always brings the “If you that is offensive, get a load of this” (NSFW) in me.

  15. And may I be the 1st to add “Not OK!”

    Why would Random House bother with some irrelevance like the academic in question?

  16. Here’s what I don’t get:

    Muslims claim to be the ultimate monotheists. Mr. ibn ‘Abdull?h is supposed to have been their god’s most important prophet, but a mere prophet, and not divine, as the Christians believe Mr. bar Yosef to have been. So what’s with the near-idolatry that all these “you must not depict The Prophet as x, y or z” rules?

    Kevin

  17. J sub D,

    Thank you! That has to be the hottest women from the Middle East. That is assuming that she is from the Middle East of course . . . screw it. Every time I see a woman in that getup that is what I will assume is underneath.

  18. I too got a real kick out of the use of a movie that’s offensive to Christians as credential for shilling for Muslim fundamentals.

    As if a lack of respect for Christianity proves that you are not coddling Islam.

  19. Jesus does not consummate a relationship with Mary in The Last Temptation of Christ. The Devil tempts Him by making Him think he has. Hence the title of the book.

  20. This is the kind of nonsense that makes me purchase books from authors on mere principle. I picked up my first Rushdie after the fuss over the Satanic Verses. Happily it just so happens (in my opinion) that he’s a really god writer.

    As soon as I can get my copy I will. (And probably give it to my wife since it sounds a bit Harlequin to me)

  21. god = good ha ha how Freudian of me

  22. 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.

    So I take it the Muslims didn’t make up all that stuff about the world being flooded and all those miracles done by old men? ‘Cause I always that those were just myths created for political reasons, not history. I suppose Spellberg also uncritically accepts the historical validity of all the hadith too, and would be very upset if I wrote a story about how Muhhamed had once eaten a watermelon.

  23. kevrob: Yes, there’s some sort of odd psychological issue here. Of all the founders of the major religions, Mohammed was by far the skeeziest. For a while he made a living as an armed robber, for example. Hard to imagine Jesus or Buddha doing that. The Koran has many instances of allowing lies, etc., in the name of the religion. And yet Muslims are notoriously the touchiest about anything that questions questions their religion in the slightest.

    Another issue: according to Muslim tradition, the Koran isn’t just inspired by God. It’s actually an Earthly representation of a book in Heaven, in God’s exact words. (God speaks medieval Arabic, you see.) And yet you never see reproductions of ancient Korans. Apparently this is because they aren’t identical to the modern Koran. In other words, just like the Bible, there were interpretations and changes and copying errors. I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t be a tactic against Islamic extremists to get ahold of a very old Koran, reproduce it exactly, and put it on the web with the differences pointed out….

  24. “That brief excerpt does make the book sound absolutely horribly written, like there might actually be better reasons not to publish it.”

    My first thought. Does not sound like something I’d ever want to pick up. Sex is really hard to write about without veering toward absurdity, though.

  25. . I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting.

    Uhhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh. She thed…thcorpionth thting.

  26. Oh, yeah. There aren’t any Christian suicide bombers. I forgot.

    I spent a couple of years working in a bookstore. During that time “Satanic Versus” was published and “Last Temptation of Christ” hit the theaters. We were the only bookstore in our city that dared to carry the former for the first month of its publication. We got death threats over it, and even Cat “Peace Train” Stevens sided with the death threateners. As for the later, we also carried the book, prominently displayed (as current interest) in the window. We had a mere one letter that said it was “shameful”. Big difference.

    Thus I know full well the differences between Muslim and Christian fundamentalists. The latter don’t riot in the streets and demand death to infidels. Why the P.C. police on the left can’t understand this is beyond me.

  27. I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t be a tactic against Islamic extremists to get ahold of a very old Koran, reproduce it exactly, and put it on the web with the differences pointed out….

    You’re presuming that the older texts are better from the standpoint of encouraging violence? Seems like a gamble to me.

    -jcr

  28. “offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”

    I’m going to take a new view of this. I say mad props to Random House. They told the truth. What I can’t stand is when someone prints something construed as offensive to Christians without thought, but then suspends works which might be offensive to Muslims, and cites ‘cultural sensitivity’.

    Random house came right out and said ‘these Muslim folks might get violent’. If everyone who refused to publish or print some piece critical of Islam would just come out and say “we’re freakin’ afraid of these people”, I could live with it.

  29. Happily it just so happens (in my opinion) that he’s a really god writer.

    Rushdie’s brilliant. I love to hear his talks on the subject of Islam.

  30. Oh, lest I forget: fuck Cat Stevens.

    Back when the Satanic Verses came out, I was on my way into my local book store and was accosted by somebody who told me that the book was blasphemous and evil, so I of course bought a copy, showed it to him, explained that I wouldn’t have bought it if he hadn’t tried to keep me from doing so, and told him to go fuck himself.

    Never got past the first half-dozen pages. Rushdie’s prose just isn’t my cup of tea.

    -jcr

  31. Har har,

    I am currently enrolled at UT and have taken a class with Spellberg. The last assignment was either read Michael Creighton’s Eaters of the Dead or watch Antonio Banderas’s The 13th Warrior and write a four page paper about it.

    It was a silly stupid assignment for a class focused on the history of the Middle East.

    She also assigned a book called “Muhammad” that many Muslim students found deeply offensive.

  32. I know full well the differences between Muslim and Christian fundamentalists. The latter don’t riot in the streets and demand death to infidels. Why the P.C. police on the left can’t understand this is beyond me.

    That’s easy:
    1) Christian fundies are the traditional enemy of the left.
    2) Muslim fundies are enemies of Christian fundies.
    Therefore:
    3) Muslim fundies are allies of the left, and
    4) You defend your allies.

  33. Ooh, Muslim Singles for Matrimony banner ads. Sweet.

  34. LOL, yup, just like a kid givem an inch and they will take a yard.

    JT
    http://www.Ultimate-Anonymity.com

  35. JCR: No, the idea would be to puncture the idea that the Koran is perfect and unalterable and the literal word of God.

  36. Has anyone here actually made through the entire Satanic Verses?

    I’ve wondered if any of those making death threats against it even read it.

  37. A lot of publishers probably look at that manuscript and say to themselves “I suppose I’m willing to risk being killed for publishing a book. But this one?”

  38. No, the idea would be to puncture the idea that the Koran is perfect and unalterable and the literal word of God.

    ?!! This has worked brilliantly with modern Christians. Just prove to them that their book has inconsistencies then stand back and laugh at their crumbling faith. Oh wait…

  39. I know full well the differences between Muslim and Christian fundamentalists. The latter don’t riot in the streets and demand death to infidels. Why the P.C. police on the left can’t understand this is beyond me.

    That’s easy:
    1) Christian fundies are the traditional enemy of the left.
    2) Muslim fundies are enemies of Christian fundies.
    Therefore:
    3) Muslim fundies are allies of the left, and
    4) You defend your allies.

    No, the gut instinct on the left (such as it is) is:

    Multiculturalism > Freedom of speech > Religious sensibilities of the majority

    In the event Islam becomes a common American religion, the map of political alliance will be sharply redrawn. By the same token, the 700 Club will suddenly discover that Islam regards Jesus as a Prophet. It’s not about any particular ideology anywhere, it’s all about ideological ends.

  40. ….Ah, crap

    (Throws his nearly-completed “The Endless Temptations of Christ IX: Jesus Does Jerusalem” into the bin)

  41. I have created an lolcat to strike fear into this sacrilegious woman

    http://mine.icanhascheezburger.com/View.aspx?ciid=1718116&g=1

  42. “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.”

    How about hardcore pornography?

    Someone should make gay porn with Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad.

  43. A book about a cybernetic Jesus raping kittens in the year 30921 probably would have been published, though.

  44. Well, I’ve never seen “The Last Temptation of Christ,” but, based on the information here, why in hell is that movie considered acceptable “historical fiction” (when many Christians maintain that Jesus never married, much less had sex)

    The Bible is already historical fiction. The Last Temptation of Christ is fanfic.

  45. Non-canon, of course.

  46. I don’t know if the rest of you are seeing the same banner ad that I am on this page, but I’m seeing an ad for a muslim matchmaking site with a picture of some strumpet showing her bare face and smiling!

    Shocking!

    -jcr

  47. 13th Warrior…now that’s a movie that sucked ass. Can I say that without someone declaring a jihad on me?

  48. She is a shanda on us Jewish people for the damage she did to free speech. 🙁

  49. So professor Spellberg called her guest lecturer, who was a muslim, and asked him to warn all Muslims about some bad literature?? How surreal! Could you imagine getting that phone call?

    While we’re on the subject, I’ve been asked to warn all white people that a book is going to be published that makes fun of the history of cucumber sandwiches. How exactly do I warn all white people? Grab a bullhorn and run into the Pottery Barn? Any help is appreciated.

  50. Has anyone here actually made through the entire Satanic Verses?

    I’ve wondered if any of those making death threats against it even read it.

    Um, yeah. I really liked it. I thought the imagery was beautiful and the entire story compelling and a page turner.

  51. Further, upon reading The Satanic Verses or watching the film adaptation of Kozantzakis’ The Last Temptation, I can’t see why a literary depiction of Muhammad’s sexual exploits with Aisha should be a concern. It’s always surprised me that Muslims are so touchy about Muhammad, when the Qu’ran is basically about how Allah is way above and Muhammad is merely the messenger.

    Even Verses is based on a supposedly excised surah from the Qu’ran, so you’d think something more theologically accurate wouldn’t be so offensive…

  52. I found The Eaters of the Dead surprisingly good, especially as I’m not huge fan of Crichton. But yeah, The 13th Warrior wasn’t so hot.

  53. I believe the reason they’re touchy about the image of Muhammad is the fear that he will be worshiped — precisely because he is merely the messenger.

  54. It would have been much better if the author wrote something like

    “the pain of consummation never came to be. I had been told of men with penises so small that one’s flower would remain intact after penetration. I did not believe this was true until Muhammad displayed his small pork sausage.”

  55. I believe the reason they’re touchy about the image of Muhammad is the fear that he will be worshiped — precisely because he is merely the messenger.

    Absolutely, that’s the point. I think every description of Islam (not written by a Christian fundamentalist) has stated that clearly. And I think that’s pretty cool.

    But why is, what is essentially, Joe Blow’s Religion so concerned with depictions that are deliciously salacious? If anything, it affirms Muhammad’s humanity in the face of the infinite divinity of Allah, and Allah’s mercy in choosing to make a revelation to such an Everyman.

    I actually think that’s pretty cool.

  56. I encourage folks to write to the Daily Texan (the student paper of UT, and my former employer) to make sure they cover this story fairly.

  57. All the Daily Texan is good for is the free NY Times crossword.

  58. It was a silly stupid assignment for a class focused on the history of the Middle East.

    She also assigned a book called “Muhammad” that many Muslim students found deeply offensive.

    So it may be somewhat accurate, then?

  59. I hardly felt the scorpion’s sting.

    Muhammad had a small dick, too.

    Good thing as Aisha was only nine years old when the pedophile prophet violated her.

    You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography

    A sacred history of what? Sleazy perverts? Yeah, you can’t turn Muhammad’s story into soft core porn because its already kiddie porn.

  60. The solution to all of this is simple: create a Muhammed-based fiction that involves homosexuality, fisting, orgies and the liberal application of maple syrup.
    Thus, no one can claim that unsavory parts of a presumed real history are being graphically depicted, thus meeting the Last Temptation standard – hell, you might as well throw in some rectally obsessed unicorns and a harem of midgets!

  61. John C. Randolph, Colin,

    Take another crack at The Satanic Verses.

    The first chapter is deliberately written in difficult, obscure language, to disorient the reader. The prose in the rest of the book is very straightforward and enjoyable. It really is a good read.

  62. Metal Messiah,

    Well there was the Lemon case in Britain.

    Professional kill-joy Mary Whitehouse sued the publisher of a “blasphemous” poem involving Jesus, gay sex and necrophilia. Here is the text of the poem (NSFW).

    Thankfully, Britain finally abolished their blasphemy law last month.

    Oh, and Sir Salman is a great writer, though Midnight’s Children is far better than The Satanic Verses.

  63. All the Daily Texan is good for is the free NY Times crossword.

    And ads looking for students to be a medical research subjects.

  64. YOU GOTTA BE FUCKING KIDDING ME.
    I worked with Sherry Jones here at the Missoulian (Missoula MT) for years. The woman is slightly unhinged, but a good writer.
    However, Ms. Jones herself is a P.C. thug of the highest order. Now she’s getting it back in her self-righteous face.
    Part of me wants to celebrate (“Can you feel THAT, huh BUDDY????”) and part of me wants to puke.

  65. “Thankfully, Britain finally abolished their blasphemy law last month.”

    Shouldn’t there be a *Reason* blog post about this?

  66. “Give them an Inch and They’ll Dictate Your Book Contract”

    An inch? That’s more than Muhammad gave Aisha.

  67. Part of me wants to celebrate (“Can you feel THAT, huh BUDDY????”) and part of me wants to puke.

    Knock back some Thunderbird and you can do both.

  68. Islam is not a religion; it is a fanatical brotherhood masquerading as a religion and instead of standing up against it, Random House has proven itself a coward. The point of literature is to explore the human condition. One of the best ways to do that is by challenging cherished beliefs. If we censor anything that “might offend” why write or publish books?

  69. This is hideous, given the history of Random House in getting “Ulysses” published in the U.S.

    I’d say Bennett Cerf must be rolling in his grave, but I don’t have a punch line for the setup.

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