The OC Blog Back Issues Our Mission Contact Us Masthead
Sudsy Wants You to Join the Oregon Commentator

Violence Trumps Free Speech Once Again.

In a move that should surprise just about no one, a “historical novel” about Mohammad’s wife has been deep-sixed by Random House:

Random House said it had been advised the book “might be offensive” to some Muslims, and “could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”

The decision was taken “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,” said the company’s deputy publisher Thomas Perry in a statement. 

In other words, Random House knows that every time someone “offends” a “small radical segment” of Muslims, people start dying, so they’ve started practicing what amounts to self-censorship. What’s more nauseating, however, is that American academics were evidently instrumental in halting the book’s publication:

Professor [Denise] Spellberg, from the University of Texas in Austin, was quoted saying the book was “ugly”, “stupid” and “soft core pornography”.

Three days later, Professor Spellberg argued in the same newspaper that she could not have “single-handedly stopped the book’s publication”.

But she conceded: “I felt it was my duty to warn the press of the novel’s potential to provoke anger among some Muslims.”

Denise Spellberg, in case you were wondering, is an associate professor specializing in Islam and gender studies. I wonder how she’d feel if a publisher refused to publish her important tract “Writing the Unwritten Life of the Islamic Eve: Menstruation and the Demonization of Motherhood”, calling it “ugly” and “stupid”.

At a conference entitled “Preventing Another September 11th“, Dr. Spellberg called for greater protection of religion and civil rights in the U.S. Evidently, she’s less interested in the “civil rights” aspect of that statement.

And, lest anyone think that I’m suggesting that Random House, as a private firm, has any sort of obligation to publish this novel, whatever its merits, let make it clear that I think they should be allowed to refuse to publish whatever they please. I just think it’s a sad testament to how culturally spineless we in the West have become, essentially letting thugs with knives, bombs, and AK-47’s dictate what will be published and what will not. It’s espeicially disgusting that a member of the academy would rather prevent a book from being published than to write a critique of it after the novel had come out, especially since said academic would almost certainly never stand for a similar treatment of her own work.

  1. Chris Holman says:


    I know that authors peddle complete works to publishers, but I’m really wondering why it is only at the final moment that the decision to not publish is made. If it’s a shitty book, why take it that far in the first place? If it’s worthy of publishing (which is a VERY loose term I imagine, hehe) then why stop it…seriously?

    I will never take the “now the terrorists have won” position, but this sort of thing still begs the question: Where does it stop?

    If publishers and hypocritical academics think that the only thing small sects of Islamic radicals like Al-Qaeda hate is books, pictures, or whatever with Mohammed being involved….they really are stupid people.

    There is a complete lack of creativity as well. I can’t remember if this book is fiction or not, but when Arab authors were confronted with a powerful state disinterested in books being published about the nasty things it carried out…the authors started to write “fiction” stories that were obviously metaphorical for reality.

    Great post…and sad, sad decision by Random House.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.