In Human Events today I discuss the escalating threats and fear surrounding the publication of the trashy novel The Jewel of Medina:
British authorities arrested three Muslims in London on Saturday after fires broke out in the offices of the publishing house Gibson Square and at the home of the publisher, Martin Rynja. Gibson Square had been planning to publish The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones, a trashy novel sensationalizing the marriage of the Islamic prophet Muhammad to the child Aisha (Muhammad was in his fifties, and Aisha was nine, when the happy union was consummated).
Then on Monday the book’s American publisher, Beaufort Books, closed its offices, explaining that it had received no specific threats but was nevertheless taking a “precautionary action” — and that it still planned to publish the book.
Meanwhile, over at Random House, they must be drawing a sigh of relief. That venerable house was originally planning to publish the novel but dropped it at the last minute after determining that it might offend Muslims — even though its portrayal of Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha is favorable, never straying into territory that might violate the strict tenets of the Council on American-Islamic Relations” media guide. Nevertheless, it looks as if those who thought Muslims would find the book offensive were right — at least as far as the three Muslims arrested in London are concerned.
But when he picked up the British rights to the book last month, Rynja said some things that Random House — and the rest of us — would do well to keep in mind. In “an open society,” he declared, “there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear. As an independent publishing company, we feel strongly that we should not be afraid of the consequences of debate.”
Now those consequences have come, however, and Rynja is wavering. According to Alan Jessop of Compass, Gibson Square’s sales representative, Rynja “is in good spirits, but has put publication in suspended animation while he reflects and takes advice on what the best foot forward is.”
I can tell you that right now, Mr. Rynja. The best foot forward is to stand up for the principles of free discussion and inquiry on which free society depends and not to show that violent intimidation works. Of course, neither Rynja nor the employees of Gibson Square probably ever thought that by publishing books they would be taking their lives in their hands, but these are perilous times for everyone. Some will no doubt say these fires could have been prevented; if Muslims have found the novel offensive, for whatever reason, it shouldn’t be published as a gesture of multicultural solidarity.
The fires themselves show that much more is at stake. Although The Jewel of Medina is a silly, stupid book, the prospect of its being deep-sixed by bullying Muslims and cowering infidels doesn’t bode well for the future of freedom in the West. The legal protections on free speech were developed precisely in order to protect speech that some groups may find offensive so as to prevent the creation of a privileged class that is beyond criticism. But that is just what the three men who firebombed Martin Rynja’s home and the Global Square offices were trying to create by frightening non-Muslims into conforming to Islamic sensibilities — or else.
London author Kenan Malik recently observed, “In the 20 years between the publication of The Satanic Verses and the withdrawal of The Jewel of Medina, the fatwa [against Rushdie]”¦has become internalized. Not only do publishers drop books deemed offensive but theaters savage plays, opera houses cut productions, art galleries censor shows, all in the name of cultural sensitivity.” But if they continue down this road, how long will we continue to be able to speak openly about the jihad threat — and indeed, how long will we continue to be able to dissent from the Islamic perspective on the world in general?
Beyond the issue of this novel, if the people in America, Britain, and elsewhere who are threatened by the global jihad and Islamic supremacism are not willing to stand up and fight for the ability to hold in conscience to views that differ from those that Muslims wish us to hold, then all is lost.
The jihadists are willing to go all the way — to give up their very lives — in their quest to control ours. For them, no price is too high.
What price is too high for us?