Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Jewel of a Controvorsy

*sigh* *double sigh*

What is it? What is it that makes it okay to criticize people but god forbid if you happen to criticize a book or a faith? Good lord, much as I love writing, please criticize away, have at it, but leave me the fuck alone. My writing is inanimate. It feels no pain but I do. I can re-write, savagely edit, but there's only one of me. No more drafts. Just one of me. I can be hurt.

Perhaps there is nothing, no one book, no god, that I feel strongly enough about to defend with my life. Nothing that I feel so strongly about that I would kill or threaten to kill someone because of it. Maybe that's why I find the whole fracas about The Jewel of Medina, to be tiresome and as thrilling as a bad case of hives. I mean, seriously, get over it.

For those who have better things to do with their time, here's the condensed version. Sherry Jones wrote a book, called The Jewel of Medina, based on the prophet Mohammad's wife, Aisha. Aisha was betrothed to the prophet at six and married to him at nine (or eleven or thirteen, but young, really, really young regardless), and was known as his favorite wife. Random House signed Jones to a $100,000 two-book deal and all was well with the world. Then...surprise! sure as winter follows fall, came the death threats. Duhhh!

Random House, that bastion of free speech and errr...commercialism...dropped the jewel like a nuclear potato. Andrew Franklin, who was editor at Penguin when The Satanic Verses was published decried Random House as cowards. Rushdie, of course, supported Jones and wrote about the perils of censorship. *Yawn*

In September 2008, British publisher Gibson Square took on the challenge of publishing the book. So far they are standing firm on this despite the publisher, Martin Rynja's house being firebombed. Yes, the threats escalated and the guy's house went up in flames.

Not so condensed after all, but there you have it.

Let me say this: I am tired of firebombs and death threats and murders in the name of religion. Debate religion, indulge in some good old-fashioned name calling but leave people's bodies and homes alone. Simply put, if you don't want to read a book, don't read it. Tell others not to read it. Why is it not okay to criticize your religion or fictionalize aspects of it? We live in a multi-textured world and some of us don't want sacronsanctness around us. We choose not read your stuff. You don't have to read ours.

But though I am a die-hard Rushdie fan and liked The Satanic Verses, I find myself waffling at Jones' shall-we-say soft-porn and rather *ahem* loose interpretation of facts. I mean there's fictionalizing and then there's "I floated in his arms to my apartment. He kicked open the door and carried me inside, then placed me on my feet again." This just makes me want to curl up with a cup of tea and the latest offering from Harlequin.The Sheikh's Virgin Bride anyone?

What I don't get is the shock that people...writers, publishers, every time they write or produce something about Islam and some pious Muslim decides he'd like to kill them for it. Really, in this day and age, if you write anything about the prophet without a million PBUHs littering the page and if you bring up even a slightly risque subject matter (even if it is done well), prepare yourself for the onslaught. And don't be coyly shocked when it arrives. Still, you have the right to offend people, yes, even people who find phrases like "I spread a smile thick as hummous across my lips, deeply offensive. Offend me. Offend iconoclastic Muslims. Just don't be shocked when you do.

And that's the point isn't it?

Jones has the right to write any lurid details she wants and a publisher should be able to publish it without having to make that now so tedious decision: your book or your life? They have the right to write and publish. You have the right not to read it and convince others not to. Simple!

So now, let's address you, Mr. or Ms. your-writing-offends-me-so-I-will-kill-you-in-the-name-of-Allah-firebomber:

By all means, castigate the author, read the book and tear it to shreds in reviews, boycott it, use it as a means to educate people. Don't try to prove you're not a narrow-minded, predictable dick-head by being a narrow-minded, predictable, dick-head. Stop with the threats, the fire-bombs, the fiery rhetoric. We get it. The rest of us--sane Muslims and non-Muslims--should not write about anything that vaguely touches anything remotely controvorsial in Islam. Guess what? People think and they read and they write. And part of that process is touching upon taboo subjects and writing about them. So, that's not gonna change. No matter how many Molotov cocktails you shake up.

Perhaps, since you evidently read (if not the books themselves, but at least the synopses put together by some literate brethren) you should channel your fiery thoughts and impulses towards writing reviews of these evil, evil, shaitan books. Go on! Really! You can. It might even get published.

Shock us by NOT firebombing anyone. Shock us by using normal, non-violent channels of dissent. Shock us by not threatening to kill or actually killing someone to show your displeasure. Shock us with your intellect, the power of your pen, the thunder of your prose.

At least then the rest of us can break away from this predictabile cycles of writing and threats every few years. And perhaps, the Ms. Jones of the world won't be laughing all the way to the bank. Get 'em where it really hurts. In the bank. Ignore these books so people like me won't buy it regardless of the author's less than stellar writing. Use your brain not your bomb.

Believe, truly believe, that Allah is all-powerful and is well able to look after His/Her image and doesn't need a pipsqueak human to defend Him/Her. I mean really, who do you think you are? Isn't that rather blasphemous...that you, a puny human can defend God?

I feel a fatwah coming on. Gotta run!


BS said...

There were no death threats to Random House before they pulled the book. They got a professor of Middle Eastern History, Denise Spielberg, to vet the book and she said it was full of inaccuracies and soft porn, and that Random House would be insane to publish it. They obviously listened because that's when they pulled the book. That Ms. Spielberg alerted some members of a Muslim group to the book's existence is weird to me, and has been heavily criticized, because that's how the rest of the world got to know about the book before it was even published.

I read the beginning of the book on a web site which supported the author and it was AWFUL.

Jawahara Saidullah said...

Some news sources *are* reporting death threats after Denise Spielberg saw the galleys (ironically sent to her for a a blurb) and 'alerted' Muslim groups about it. Wonder which Muslim groups she alerted.

Whether they were actually death threats or the sceptre of them it's bad enough.

As far as it being an awful book, yes I read the prologue and some excerpts before writing this piece (hence the quotes from it) but the point is that awful writing should not translate to firebombs and death threats.

BS said...

I think awful writing deserves firebombs and death threats after reading some of the stuff my students have turned in this semester.

Jawahara Saidullah said...

Oh come on...I am dying to read the story of the man who was fathered by a monkey :-). I'm sure it will be amazing.

BS said...

Oh I already graded and handed back that assignment. The monkey story was so freaking amazing I can't even begin to tell you.

Winnowed said...

“Yes, the threats escalated and the guy's house went up in flames.”
That's amazing! Did you actually see the house go up in flames? As far as I know, petrol bomb was thrown through the doorway of Martin Rynja's home in Islington's Lonsdale Square, which doubles as the offices for Gibson Square. It caused a small fire which was put out with very little damage.

Jawahara said...

Hmmm...Wow! Sherlock, ya got me. I give up. No I didn't see the house go up in flames, but perhaps you did. Did I say the house was destroyed? No. I said it went up in flames which is technically correct.

Whether it was destroyed or not, or how much damage was caused is not even the point. The fact is that someone was threatened enough by a piece of writing to violate someone else's property, with an intent to killing them.

So Rynja's house was not destroyed. Big deal! That's not because the bomb thrower was a terrorist with a heart. The flames were put out. Mr. Rynja lucked out. There is, however, a trail of actual threats carried out and a general note of terror from people like this when it comes to being offended by other people's writing. They can be offended. Fine. Does that give them the right to fire-bomb someone, whether or not the intended target is killed or destroyed?

temple oak said...

The basic question is how a writer is to go about when he is writing a controversial issue.
Its of not much use arguing with fundamentalists trying to convince them that their reactions are stupid and not keeping with maturity of opinion.
One safeguard will the anonymous writing(whether you like it or not)
But the problem is that the publisher cannot remain anonymous. Net may be a future prospect.