Serbian Publisher Pulls The Jewel of Medina Off Shelves Due to Protest

ratIf you were hoping for a copy of The Jewel of Medina in Serbian, you’re shit out of luck. Publisher BeoBook pulled the Serbian translation of The Jewel of Medina from bookstore shelves after The Islamic Community in Serbia protested the book’s publication.

Author Sherry Jones published her response in the Serbian daily newspaper Blic today, saying that she wrote the novel “to honor Islam… to celebrate these great historical figures while dispelling misunderstandings about Islam.”

After the discussions here and elsewhere, I personally have come to understand the depth of meaning inherent in any humanization or fictional portrayal of Mohammed, and why that is profoundly offensive and upsetting to Muslim individuals. I get it. I truly do, and I don’t relish anyone feeling that way.

But what protests are we talking about here? The Islamic Community in Serbia protested the book… by doing what? There’s no mention that I can find of the specific actions that were undertaken in protest. And the lack of mention makes me think that shit was not literally on fire. Not a day goes by that I don’t see the 12 foot giant inflatable rat outside some building where a union is protesting work treatment in Manhattan. Protests run the gamut from marching to yelling to rallies to giant inflatable rat (one of the rats has festering nipples. I still haven’t figured that one out) to setting shit on fire, tossing bricks and overturning cars with a backhoe. Since none of the latter were mentioned, is it safe for me to presume that the protest was more of the former? Do they have inflatable rats in Serbia?

And what protest would cause a publisher to remove a book from the shelves? This is getting ridiculous, because the more this book is removed and canceled and blocked from the reading public, the more power it is given, not to mention the repeated underscoring of the “OMG Muslims are angry let’s panic” response. That response is denigrating to Muslims, to say the least, not to mention absolutely ludicrous.

I’m angry. I’m protesting. I want to read this damn book already and draw my own grown up big-girl-panty-wearing conclusions. Do I need to bring the giant rat over to Random House tomorrow? Anyone know where I can borrow a truck?

ETA: Thanks to Rebecca for the link.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    sara says:

    This is getting ridiculous!  My standard historical romance ebooks are leaving me wanting, because I long to read this book…

  2. 2
    robinb says:

    This rat.  I must know more about this rat!  Seriously.

  3. 3

    Giant inflatable rats?  Is that anything like R.O.U.S.? 

    Seriously, I’ve been wondering all along if this isn’t some kind of elaborate advertising stunt to push sales of this book if and when it’s ever released.  But I’m with you, I’d rather judge it for myself than have others censor it for me.

  4. 4
    Sparky says:

    This is so depressing. This idea that ANY kind of critique or negative opinion from a muslim is a threat of extreme violence is beyond ridiculous and offensive.

    We’re reaching a point where muslims are either forced to bite their tongue constantly and never crack their teeth no matter what or everyone runs around screaming in terror if they so much as tut under their breath.

    And we all need a 12 foot inflatable rat. It is known

  5. 5
    HelenB says:

    Here’s the thing, did any of the “pressure group” read the book or were they just informed of it’s exisitence and told it was a baaad book. There was a case not that long ago of a british women teaching in Somaila I think. She taught little children 5/6yrs and brought in a teddy bear and asked them to name it. The name they wanted to call the bear was mohammed. The teaching assistance ran to her iman and reported this blasphamy. The woman was arrested and gangs roamed the street calling for her death because they had been told that a western woman had defamed islam not the details of course just rabble rousing from those who should know better. Thankfully she was able to come back to the Uk without harm but really. If there was a problem I did not understand why her TA hadn’t took her to one side and said this is a bad idea call it fred instead. A classic case of hysteria by the uninformed led by those who simply hate western culture.

  6. 6
    Marianne McA says:

    But Helen, if it’s profoundly offensive to a person that the book exists, then they don’t need to read it to know they object to it.

  7. 7
    HelenB says:

    I will defend anyone’s right to be offended as long as that right does not deprive me of my freedom to choose. I am offended by all sorts of things but I do not insist on them being banned. You don’t like the premise of a book, do not read it, but don’t deprive anyone else of the right to read it. That is the road to dictatorship because where might it end?

  8. 8
    Rebecca says:

    De-lurking here, because I’m stunned no one’s mentioned this yet: Serbia’s current existence as an independent state (as opposed to the former Yugoslavia) started with some rather spectacular anti-Muslim actions, that gave us the pretty new euphemism “ethnic cleansing” (sounds so much better than “genocide,” doesn’t it?).  The mass murder of Muslims because they were Muslim is a recent memory in that part of the world (e.g. barely ten years ago).

    Under the circumstances, I can see where a specifically Serbian publisher of good will might pull the book not because of any threat of violence but purely from a human and humane desire to not add insult to an already very injured community.

    spamword: decision47—BeoBook may not have made the right decision…but it might have been made based on ethical concerns and not on fear

    And for the record: yes, I oppose censorship, and the first amendment is my favorite amendment and I love it more than fluffy bunnies and big-eyed kittens.

  9. 9
    shirley says:

    I’m with you, Sarah. Enough all ready. I can’t find anything about any protest either. And heck yeah, this whole idea that if a Muslim even says ‘I don’t like that’, what they really mean is ‘I’m going to kill you, your family, and anyone that looks like you’ is absurd.

    The point about Serbia, though a good one, doesn’t change the fact that the warring between the Christians and Muslims in that particular area has been going on for centuries, with equal number of atrocities on both sides. It’s just that this last time, it was the Christians doing the nasty.

    I don’t know if I want to read the book, but all the hullabaloo is really grating on me. Lots of books are offensive, this one isn’t more offensive just because it deals with Islam in a fictional way, and treating the book that way is wrong. Especially since offensiveness is subjective in the first place.

    Just publish the danged thing all ready.

  10. 10
    Marianne McA says:

    Helen: I wouldn’t support the argument that every book ought to be published no matter what. Trouble is, to make the argument, you have to cite examples that are so profoundly disturbing it seems wrong to use them casually.

    But, if you’ll excuse that in the cause of thinking things through – I personally wouldn’t want a book that showed photographs of adults having sex with children to be published, even though there is a clear market for those images. I’d want it banned. I would deprive other people of the right to read it.  If that was a step down the road to dictatorship (which I don’t accept) so be it.
    So I disagree with you – I think that there are some things that are so offensive they ought to be (and are) banned.

    Whether this book is one of them – I don’t know.

  11. 11
    Mora says:

    Marianne McA—If this book is one that deserves to be banned, then there must be thousands of books, not to mention movies and works of art, that should be banned for blasphemy against the christian faith.

    Why is it that people are so willing to say “…that is profoundly offensive and upsetting to Muslim individuals. I get it. I truly do, and I don’t relish anyone feeling that way,” when it comes to Islam, but if Christians feel this way about a book, people roll their eyes and ridicule them?

    When the Davinci Code, which did for Christians exactly what this books is doing for Muslims—i.e., take a part of their most sacred beliefs and twist it beyond recognition until it’s completely insulting—was protested against, no one pulled the book from the shelves. No one said, “I understand how you feel, you’re legitimately upset, but…”

    No, what people mostly said was, “Shut up. Can’t you understand it’s just FICTION?”

    Why the double standard?

    Or maybe I just see things differently because my father is Muslim and my mother is Christian.

    Either way, I don’t believe in banning books because they challenge the tenets of a particular religion or belief system. THAT is the true insult.

  12. 12
    Ella says:

    Not going to join the fray, but thought you might find it interesting that just after the first SBTB posting on this topic, Random House released The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff on Aug 5.  This is about the 19th wife of Brigham Young, leader of the Mormon church.

    Were they planning a spate of novels about wives of religious leaders?

    verification:  child72, I checked, Brigham Young had 57 children by 16 wives

  13. 13
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Um, the reason that a coffee table book of child porn should be banned is not that it is “offensive”, it is that the creation there of is a CRIME. There are VICTIMS in your example. There are no victims in the case of a work of fiction, there are only offended sensibilities. And while no book “deserves” to be published, having one yanked mid-production for fear of reprisals stinks of kowtowing to special interests (whatever they may be) in a way that I find deeply offensive.

  14. 14
    Ms Manna says:

    This is a quote from one of the Muslim leaders in Serbia, who was instrumental in getting the book pulled:

    “It is a book that is absolutely not refraining from desecrating something that is considered by all Muslims as untouchable. Obviously someone wishes to join the ranks of those who produced those cartoons in Denmark, and of course this is an insult to all Muslims of the world, particularly for us here in Serbia,” Zukorlić, who is the mufti of the Islamic Community in Serbia, warned.

    When community leaders are making comments like that, I can’t say that I blame a press for getting antsy.

  15. 15
    Cora says:

    This reminds me of the cancellation of a performance of the Mozart opera Idomeneo in Berlin in 2006, because the opera house feared attacks by enraged Muslims. The Berlin performance ended with Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed and Neptune having their heads cut off, which was deemed to be offensive to Muslims (but apparently not Christians or Buddhists). It was definitely offensive to Mozart, whose opera Idomeneo is set in classical Greece and does not even feature either Buddha or Jesus or Muhammed and does not include any beheadings at all. 

    What is more, there was no hint of any actual Muslim protest and the performance had been playing for three years without incident. In fact, I suspect that the opera house management loudly announced the cancellation and then cancelled the cancellation, because one must not surrender to terrorists, even non-existent terrorists, in order to bolster the flagging performance. And it worked out, because all of a sudden a performance that no one had been talking about was all over the news and politicians flocked to the opera house to show their support.

    The Jewel of Medina uproar strikes me as a similar case. Publishers are quick to assume Muslims will be offended and are as quick to equate offense with violent reactions, even though there is no sign of any actual danger.

  16. 16
    Cora says:

    Okay, so apparently Serbian Muslims were offended, though I still don’t see any threats in the statement of the Serbian Muslim leader.

    What is more, I don’t think that The Jewel of Medina case is comparable to the Danish cartoons or to the film Submission, because the Danish cartoons and Submission were intended as a provocation, while The Jewel of Medina was not according to the author.

  17. 17
    Alex Ess says:

    Would I want a coffee table book of people molesting children published??? Now, come on…Who has ever argued this? All right, no. The answer is no. No, I would not be okay with Random House publishing The Big Book O Child Molesting Photos. Because in order to make that book you’d have to molest some children, which I’m against. The children don’t like it. Also it’s a felony. And how is that a good analogy for this situation?

    As for fictional text depictions of child molesting, you can go down to Barnes & Noble and pick up a copy of Lolita and a couple of Andrew Vachss novels any day of the week, and I don’t see a problem with that.

  18. 18
    Flo says:

    Let us not upset the Muslim community.  They are so fragile!  But it’s OK for them to come to other countries and use up resources, piss on and desecrate other religion’s sacred spaces in protest and an attempt to get their way.  No, we just need to let them do whatever they want.

    It’s a two way street.  The more we cater to people being offended the more we wind up in a PC world where no one says anything worth listening too or reading about.

    watcheword – police36 – nnnnnnnooooooo the thought police are after meee!  *flees*

  19. 19

    the Danish cartoons and Submission were intended as a provocation, while The Jewel of Medina was not

    Not disputing the truth of this statement, but the measure of the offense caused is not affected by the offense intended. To me, Ms Jones’ repeated statements of the kind, “to celebrate these great historical figures while dispelling misunderstandings about Islam” when it’s clear she’s actually creating more misunderstandings from her inadequate research into the issues, is cluelessness that borders on the offensive, even without the impact of her actual text.

    I’ve always thought that gross stupidity is indistinguishable from malice, at least so far as effect is concerned. At a certain point, I stop giving people a pass because they don’t mean to cause hurt.

  20. 20
    Virginia Shultz-Charette says:

    Ann Somerville it is not clear that the research was inadequate. No one has read the damn book! Just because an historian who did a book on Aisha claimed it was inadequate does not make it so.
    As an historian, I’ve read many books by other historians who are dead wrong on certain subjects, while books like Killer Angels, classified as historical fiction, are so well-researched they are used as the definitive work on the battle of Gettysburg in many colleges and universities.

  21. 21
    Amy says:

    Ann,

    I agree with you that “gross stupidity is indistinguishable from malice.” That’s a brilliant way of saying it and I may quote you on that particular bit (though not in relation to JoM.)

    However…  you mention the “actual text.” Have you “actually” read it? All of it?

    Other than the knowledge that depictions of the Prophet are frowned upon (indeed, for some all human depictions are—depends on who you ask), if we haven’t read the book, how do we really know just how off or incomplete Jones’ research really was?

  22. 22

    Amy, Virgina, I am basing my comments on Jones’ repeated claims that A’isha is a ‘forgotten’ woman of Islam (uh, she really isn’t) and that she was apparently unaware of just how offensive portraying her as (a) a character in a novel (since fictional retellings of Korani stories are anathema to Muslims) and (b) as a potentlal adulterer in direct contradiction of Koranic text. Fine if she knew all that, and decided to write her story anyway, but her comments on previous posts here, and her now deleted blog, indicate she’s bewildered by the hostile reception. Since there’s remarkable uniformity among Muslim respondents as to why her novel is offensive, she really should have known that. By the way, they were able to judge the problem with the novel just from the prologue posted here.

    She also has restricted her scholarship to English sources, since she doesn’t read Arabic. Since a good deal of scholarship on A’isha is apparently in Arabic, I wonder how accurate her research can really have been – she hasn’t once mentioned even consulting a Muslim scholar, or asking a Muslim for advice at all. As a former historian myself, I find that dodgy. Not wrong, just incomplete.

    I’m certainly not arguing for the book to be pulled or censored or anything of the sort, and I agree, as Shahed Amunallah said himself, that it would be better to have the book come out and be responded to in open critical debate. I’m just responding to the spurious argument that because Jones didn’t intend to be offensive, no one is allowed to be offended.

  23. 23
    Anonym2857 says:

    I was doing my afternoon surf of news websites, skimming headlines, and look what I came across…

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,406483,00.html

    It was the banner headline at the time I first saw it. Now it’s been demoted to deeper into the website.

    Diane

  24. 24
    Amy says:

    Ann,

    The original WSJ article stated that Jones did indeed learn Arabic, though how proficient she is, I do not know. I do know that after 3 years of studying it I am nowhere near able to pick up scholarly works to read.  However, there are Muslim scholars who have published their own works in English, and there are translations—Fatima Mernissi, if I remember correctly, was once such scholar whose works Jones cited in her bibliography.

    Also, I think we need to keep in mind that, as it has been repeated over and over again, ad nauseum, that this fiction.  You say it’s dodgy that she didn’t consult a Muslim scholar or a Muslim for comments.  First of all, I don’t think we can presume to know that for certainty, and second of all, should all works of historical fiction be presented to experts to make sure they don’t offend?  Would only then it not be incomplete and dodgy?

    I agree with you that people have the right to be offended whenever they choose, not just when the offense is intentional.  And certainly there is an argument to be made that Jones was naive in perhaps not realizing the amount of offense to be caused.  But saying that her work is dodgy because she may not have submitted it to Muslim scrutiny gives me pause.

  25. 25

    The original WSJ article stated that Jones did indeed learn Arabic, though how proficient she is, I do not know.

    The GalleyCat article said she doesn’t read Arabic. If I’m wrong, then I apologise.

    But saying that her work is dodgy because she may not have submitted it to Muslim scrutiny gives me pause.

    I did not say her work was dodgy. I said her research methods were dodgy – and by that, I don’t mean immoral or bad or wrong or anything other than it doesn’t meet a basic academic standard of procedure. She doesn’t need to meet that for fiction – it’s the fact she seems to think the novel is of educational merit that means that standard could be deemed to apply.

    Look, she’s repeatedly claiming to be a ‘reforming’ writer. She’s setting herself up as the great champion of poor, forgotten Muslim women heroes, therefore, she’s set herself a higher bar than a normal fiction writer. She needs to understand her subject and the implications more than ‘just’ a novelist. No one’s forced her to make those claims, but when people make such claims, I expect them to back them up.

    Frankly, she’d have been better off not making these grandiose statements, and at least she wouldn’t be putting the backs up of scholars and serious historians.

    I don’t think we can presume to know that for certainty

    She’s had plenty of time and media space to explain that, if she has.

    should all works of historical fiction be presented to experts to make sure they don’t offend?

    No, but it would be a good idea if you’re making a huge claim of accuracy, to check with experts to make sure it is. Not mandatory, just wise.

  26. 26

    A series of cartoons that depicted the image of the Prophet Mohammad, which is deemed offensive to Islam, were published in Denmark, leading to worldwide protests when they were first printed in September 2005. Last winter, also in the Netherlands, there were protests when a Dutch lawmaker released a controversial, anti-Islamic film.  ~~~Fox News

    Um, are they saying that Denmark (Danish) and the Netherlands (Dutch) are the same?* Because that might lead me to believe Ms. Jones isn’t the only one with dodgy research methods.

    *the above gripe has nothing to do with anyting other than the fact that I’m half-Danish, and sick of being called Dutch.

  27. 27
    ehren says:

    I’ve got a muslim friend who doesn’t find it offensive at all, so their protestations are absolutely ridiculous and very angering. Heaven forbid you see your historical figures as HUMAN when they very much were. Gee,  they didn’t pull the Da Vinci Code off shelves because Christian idiots went apesh** over it. Tough luck, muslims. Get used to it. Christians and Jews certainly did. And Personally I like people exploring possibilities with historical figures. Jesus married a woman and had a baby before he died? AWESOME! I mean, how much more awesome is it that the man who died for our sins, that sacrificed his own life so that we would live on, found love in a woman and had a baby and that baby lived on elsewhere?

    Just royally angering and I’m going to somehow get my hands on this blasted book even if it kills me.

  28. 28
    Marianne McA says:

    Kalen and Alex – I read Helen’s argument as:

    No book should be banned
    therefore
    This book should not be banned.

    If you accept that no book should be banned, the argument is valid. I’m arguing that I don’t accept that premise, because I can think of at least one instance where I’d want a book to be banned. No analogy was intended.

    Mora: It isn’t a tenet of the Christian religion that Jesus or St Paul shouldn’t be depicted fictionally, so I wouldn’t see it as a double standard.

    “Either way, I don’t believe in banning books because they challenge the tenets of a particular religion or belief system. THAT is the true insult.”

    See, I mostly agree. If the author had written a Richard Dawkins type book saying God was a delusion, I’d think it ludicrous to ban it. So I’m not opposed to challenging religion.

    Truthfully, I know why the question as to whether the book should be published bothers me – I just can’t get it to the front of my head in any coherent way.
    I live in N. Ireland, which has had a fairly divided society, where things that were seen as important to one tradition were read as offensive by the other. Also, some actions that seemed necessary to one community seemed immoral to the other.

    This somehow has echoes of that for me.  And I think it’s easy to stand on principle, where you’re not yourself bothered or offended by the situation – ‘We will march down your road, we have the legal right to do so, suck it up.’
    But, I suppose, I think the right thing to do is look at the actual situation, as well as the principle behind it, which might take you to -‘We have the right to march down your road, but we can see it upsets you, so we won’t, in this instance, exercise that right. We’ll march down the other road instead.’

    Sorry – that’s a real ramble off-topic – but I can’t get my thoughts in any coherent shape.

  29. 29
    Marianne McA says:

    where things that were seen as important to one tradition were read as offensive by the other.

    Reading the speel over, there should be a qualifier somewhere in that sentence.

    ‘where some things that were seen as important’
    or ‘were sometimes read as offensive’

  30. 30

    Interestingly enough, the barrister who represented Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie has recently called for compensation for Sherry Jones.

    Also, Jones’ blogger site is down.  Interesting, isn’t it? 

    I really, really want to read this book now.

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