The Jewel of Medina, a novel about the Prophet Mohammad’s child bride Aisha already linked to an arson attack in London, was rushed into U.S. bookstores on Monday in a bid to head off any other violence. Author Sherry Jones says it’s a respectful account of Aisha’s life but Random House baulked at publishing it after being warned it could offend Muslims and provoke violence from a “small, radical segment”.
Publisher Eric Kampmann, president of the Beaufort Books company whose London office was firebombed, told Reuters that the surprise measure would help change the discussion about the book. “We felt that, given what was happening, it was better for everybody… to let the conversation switch from a conversation about terrorists and fearful publishers to a conversation about the merits of the book itself,” he said.
Comments from Muslims in Britain about The Jewel of Medina have been mixed, with some approving a vigorous protest and others saying their views have evolved since the Rushdie affair. Comments on blogs since the novel went out to U.S. bookshops range from those criticising it as a “flawed jewel”, those (like Ayaan Hirsi Ali) cheering the publisher for not caving in and those urging Muslims not to be provoked even by this “distorted picture of Aisha”. Some, citing a review saying it’s just a “second-rate bodice ripper-style romance”, wonder what the fuss is all about.
People who protest violently against a book usually haven’t read it and have no intention of doing so. This was the case with Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses — and has been with many other books that had nothing to do with Islam. So is Kampmann’s strategy a smart move or a naive attempt to get hotheads to read first and shout later?