Lost in the hoopla over the conventions is a deeply troubling incident that may say more about our future than any number of 10-Point Plans for Somehow Lowering Gas Prices and Punishing Greedy Oil Barons. Publishing giant Random House has decided not to publish The Jewel of Medina, Sherry Jones’ novel about the Prophet Muhammed’s child bride. Why? Remember the recent violence over the “Muhammed cartoons,” which many American publications refused to reprint? You got it.
This isn’t a case of some rejected author crying that her tome was buried in the slush pile by cowardly interns. The book’s advances had been paid, pub date was set for August, and book tours were planned. That all came to a halt, Reuters reported, after the company received “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.”
Writing in The New York Times, the esteemed and usually thoughtful Stanley Fish flatly misses the point. Fish takes the legalistic line that no real “censorship” was involved when Random House decided to kill the book–i.e., no government agency spiked the novel, ergo no censorship. By that narrow definition, of course, there hasn’t been any government censorship since long before the Feds tried to block publication of The Pentagon Papers.
OK. So it wasn’t government censorship that caused Random House to back down. It was self-censorship bred by fear, fear of Muslim fanatics, fear of seeming politically incorrect, fear of screaming picketers and maybe far worse.
There’s a pattern here, alas, and things are even worse in countries that have no constitutional protection for free speech. It’s a pattern that includes the shameful prosecution of Brigitte Bardot for saying things offensive to Muslims, a pattern that includes the trial of Canadian journalist Mark Steyn for, again, saying things offensive to Muslims.
If Barack Obama can reach out and build bridges to people like these hypersensitive fanatics, he’s the miracle worker his fans proclaim him to be.
It would be nice if in tonight’s coronation speech , in his litany praising the people who have touched his life as he has traveled this great country and learned so much about the faith and the families and the communities that make up this gorgeous mosaic that is the last best hope of mankind, Obama included a line denouncing this kind of intellectual terrorism, but I won’t stay up late waiting for it, even though, come to think of it, that would bury the “He’s a secret Muslim” garbage forever.