19.05.09 | Sherry Jones
"Aren’t you scared?" I get asked this question all the time, most recently in the wake of the conviction of the three radical extremist Muslim men who conspired to set fire to the home office of Gibson Square, the London publisher that had been due to publish The Jewel of Medina last October.
The full story of this attack is unnerving, to say the least. But the book isn’t insulting to Muslims. I had hoped it would be a bridge-builder. Whether or not my book is respectful, however, has little to do with the real issue here. For, although the extremists lost in court, they have apparently won where it really counts — in the UK’s bookshops.
After Gibson Square announced, a couple of weeks after the arson attempt, that it was indefinitely postponing publication of The Jewel of Medina — following in the footsteps of Random House in the US — I awarded world English publication rights to Beaufort Books, my US publishing house whose publisher and small staff have supported my book unwaveringly.
Beaufort publisher Eric Kampmann and associate publisher Margot Atwell headed to the London Book Fair in April with a full display of The Jewel of Medina and confidence that they would find the right distributor to supply stores in the UK with the book. But — no. Everyone, it seems, is too afraid.
Forget the fact that The Jewel of Medina has been published in seven countries, with no threats or repercussions of any kind. Well — OK. In Serbia a conservative mufti protested the book two days after its release last August and issued threats grave enough to cause my publisher there to withdraw it from publication. But the people of Serbia spoke loudly and clearly against censorship. So did the press, and other groups including moderate Muslims. The book was re-released and sold-out.
Freedom of speech, the first freedom to go when fascism gets a foothold, has taken a blow in the western world. Unless the people of Great Britain, and the press, speak out against those who are limiting their right to read, think, speak, listen, debate, discuss, criticize and, yet, insult. After all, those who would stop free speech and expression for the rest of us certainly feel they have the right to make threats and to incite violence. I hope the people of the UK can find the power, and the courage, to raise an outcry against censorship.
"Use it, or lose it," the saying goes. Extremists are using — abusing, even — their right to free speech. Now it’s time for the rest of us, including moderate Muslims and the press, who cherish our culture and our freedom, to raise a cry louder than that of radicals, so we don’t lose that most precious, and crucial, of freedoms.