Friday, September 05, 2008

A Surprising Interview with Sherry Islam-Is-a-Religion of Peace Jones

ALTMUSLIM.COM: Back in April of this year, I received a phone call from University of Texas, Austin professor Denise Spellberg, an Islamic Studies expert in whose class I have guest lectured the past two years. She brought to my attention a book she had been sent to review entitled Jewel of Medina, a book she found offensive for its portrayal of Aisha, the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad. In a turn from most literary depictions of Aisha, this one was heavily fictionalized, with a dramatic story arc that, to Spellberg, represented a racy novel rather than an accurate depiction of her life. (Spellberg should know - her own scholarly work on Aisha is known as one of the most authoritative books on the subject.)

As I had not heard anything of the book, I sent an e-mail inquiry to a private listserv for graduate students in Islamic studies, describing the phone call I just received and asked if anyone could tell me more about it. After hearing no response for three weeks, I got an email out of the blue from the author of that book, Sherry Jones, who asked if we were interested in writing an advance review. What I didn't know at the time was that someone on the Islamic studies list passed my e-mail out of the listserv, where it ended up on the website of Husaini Youths, an overseas forum catering to young Shia Muslims. There, some offended readers voiced concern at the as-yet unpublished book, suggesting a seven point plan for pressuring Random House, the book's publisher, to cancel publication.

But they needn't have bothered. In June, Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Nomani told me she was writing an article on the reaction to the book, identifying me through her research on the issue and asking me to comment. It was then that I learned that Random House had indeed withdrawn the imminent publication of the book (set for August 12 of this year), despite having paid Jones a reported $100,000 advance. Cited in Random House's cancellation was a reference to unnamed "Islamic scholars" who advised them that the book could provoke extremist Muslims. And in some corners, I was identified as the catalyst for this chain of events.

The response to the story was explosive, with people around the world decrying perceived Muslim threats to the author and publisher - except for the fact that no Muslims were involved in the actual censorship. As the story played out, it has been revealed that there had been no violence or even threat of violence in response to the book. Hopefully, this means Muslims have learned a valuable lesson from the response to The Satanic Verses (which made Salman Rushdie a celebrity) and the Danish cartoon controversy (which did untold PR damage to Muslims worldwide). Because censoring the book - even self-censoring - was something that I abhorred, I wrote a response here supporting free speech in this case, which has incidentally been republished in Lebanon, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. Yet, the entrenched notion that Muslims are antithetical to free speech continues.

And then there's Sherry Jones herself. Jones spoke out when asked about the issue, contesting the description given of her book as "pornography." But as she felt that she was being used as a wedge between Muslims and those that dislike them, she began to withdraw from commenting further. While acknowledging her book would be controversial, she maintained that she wrote the book not just with respect, but with admiration for Aisha, and felt her interpretation and dramatization of her life would accentuate her known qualities, qualities which drew her to the subject matter after 9/11.

Sherry's insistence that she intended a respectful treatment of the subject matter, in addition to her reaching out to us before the controversy grew, made us wonder - is there more to this story than some would have us believe? Below, Sherry Jones speaks to us in detail about what her book represented, how she and I have weathered the storm, and about the sequel that she's already written. ”I Did All This in the Service of a Truth” >>> By Shahed Amanullah | September 4, 2008

The Dawning of a New Dark Age – Dust Jacket Hardcover, direct from the publishers (US) >>>
The Dawning of a New Dark Age – Paperback, direct from the publishers (US) >>>

4 comments:

Cubby B. said...

I am so surprised at the reaction to a book that has not even been published let alone read by the public.
Whoever would have thought that there would be a negative reaction to a book about a young women abused by an ageing peadophile lover.
I thought we lived in the Liberal 21st. Century.
When I saw the name Spellberg, I almost thought it was "Spielberg!"
Now that would be a turn up for the books!!!
I had already started to think "Hollywood Blockbuster" until the fits of laughter died down.
What a shame.
I could see all those CGI images of Angels giving it some in the desert.
Wow, that would be some movie!

Mark said...

cubby b:

Whoever would have thought that there would be a negative reaction to a book about a young women abused by an ageing peadophile lover.

Yes, that is a surprise, isn't it? One would have thought there'd be outrage.

I thought we lived in the Liberal 21st. Century.

Is it so liberal anymore? Restrictions are closing in on us. So many activities have been banned in the UK, for instance. Even international Internet image hosting outfits are very sensitive. I have had several harmless photos pulled, so I don't see things as liberal as they used to be.

Anonymous said...

Well it shows that an unguarded and weak Liberalism is not able to withstand the pressures it is beginning to feel.
It was a great experiment but it has opened the door to those who do not recognise weakness or liberal thought as something worthy of support.
In any case, there is a huge gulf between Liberal political values, and the Liberalism of our modern day politicians.
Such finesse falls on deaf ears when the muezzin starts intoning the call to prayer, the battle cry of jihad.

Mark said...

Anonymous:

Superbly put! I couldn't agree with you more!