I think that Random House’s claim to have pulled the Jewel of Medina over concerns about violence are simply not credible – and rather cowardly, to hide behind the hypothetical muslim horde. If perhaps they thought they could get away by playing the victim card, though, they were mistaken – the scions of free speech have roused themselves in fury over RH’s betrayal of free speech values. First, it was Salman Rushdie decrying censorship where none existed, now it is a group called the Langum Charitable Trust which has issued a press release stating that Random House’s books will no longer be considered for any of the literary awards that the trust hands out in various categories. I was forwarded the text of the release via email:
August 25, 2008:
Random House and Cowardly Self-Censorship
Random House recently dropped its plans to publish Sherry Jones’s book The Jewel of Medina solely on the grounds that its publication might be offensive to some in the Muslim community and might lead to acts of violence by radical Muslims. While any publisher has the right if not the duty to refuse to publish books that lack literary merit, Random House had previously decided this manuscript was highly publishable. It paid a $100,000 advance, and had arranged for foreign publication, Book of the Month Club selection, and Quality Paperback Book Club selection.
All that triggered Random House’s repudiation of its promise was the receipt of some fairly slight information that there might be violence. Serious ideas, even if offensive to some, flourish in books. Random House has exhibited a degree of cowardly self-censorship that seriously threatens the American public’s access to the free marketplace of ideas.
While this manuscript is not in any of our prize areas, Random House’s actions represent a threat to all literature. We understand that the author’s agent is attempting to find another publisher. Meanwhile, we can not pretend that this type of cowardice will disappear without serious remonstrance. Until The Jewel of Medina is actually published, The Langum Charitable Trust will not consider submissions of any books, for any of our prizes, from Random House or any of its affiliates. We do this reluctantly, since our most recent prize in American historical fiction went to a Random House title. Nevertheless, this issue must be confronted.
It is regrettable that with our national Banned Books Week only one month away, we still must concern ourselves with these issues.
Of course, Jewel of Medina is not a “banned book” nor is RH’s refusal to publish the book tantamount to censorship of any kind. However, I agree with the Langham Trust that RH’s actions were cowardly. Any pressure upon RH that induces them to rethink their decision – or at least, dissuade other publishers from doing the same thing with respect to books about Islam – is a good thing.