10 August 2008

Self Censoring in the Face of Religion

The topic of censorship has been popping up in my life recently, mainly in the form of one or two Atheist Nexus users' paranoia and cynicism regarding a few missing posts. Holy cow! Missing posts...Big Brother has come! Pardon my sarcasm, but really...it's awfully silly. Especially when you look at this.

Plans to release a novel about Prophet Muhammad's child bride A'isha have been scrapped by US publishers Random House over fears it could spark violence.

The Jewel of Medina, the debut novel by journalist Sherry Jones, was due to hit shelves on 12 August. Random House said it had been advised the book "might be offensive" to some Muslims, and "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."

Way to cave in to the absurd fanaticism of a ridiculous group of superstitious intellectual throw-backs, Random House. This annoys me as both an atheist and a writer. I feel for the author, who was likely happy her novel had been accepted for publication (show me a writer who wouldn't be thrilled), only to have it shelved because of some whack religious group's lunacy. That's right: lunacy. Insanity. Mad as a box of badgers.
The decision was taken "for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel," said the company's deputy publisher Thomas Perry in a statement.
So, Salman Rushdie did indeed have some serious troubles with The Satanic Verses, and we, of course, can't forget the stomach-turning events following the publication of some flippin' cartoons. People were hurt; people were killed. Because of art and free speech. Because some people out there find other peoples' freedom a complete affront to their self-imposed dogmatic psychological cells. Yeah, this really burns my ass.

Secular societies can't afford to be weak here. Clearly, Jones must have known the risks of writing and publishing her book, which, to me, says she was up for the confrontation. I appreciate that. I can understand the publisher's concern--they would hate to be associated with a book that unintentionally sparked a bunch of insane people to go on a murderous rampage (let's be clear here: it's not the book that caused the damage, it's the reaction of a body of unreasonable, irrational lunatics). I suppose I can't blame Random House for feeling that way, but I can and will be disgusted by their lack of spine in the face of such idiocy.

The very thought of kow-towing to such stupidity makes me want to go out and do a little damage myself (fortunately, I am a rational, thinking being with considerations for the freedoms of others and I would never demean myself and the rest of humanity by doing that*). Where does something like this end? I imagine a world where Islamic Fundamentalists stalk the globe, shoulders back, heads held high, while folks who know better--who are smarter, more reasonable, and morally superior--cower, afraid to say 'boo.' This isn't an image of the world that I'm fond of. Let's not give an inch through that doorway, eh? Get some gravitas, Random House. Grow a pair, eh?

*For a wonderful little quote by a person of great esteem, hop on over to Atheist Revolution. Morality: it's not just for the crazy religious folks. In fact, it doesn't seem to be something they really care that much about, except to pay it a whole lot of lip service and use it to cover up their own disgusting behavior.


  1. Thanks for the link love. I can't even remember where I found that quote now, but I really liked it. I hope I remember to use it the next time I am asked about sources of atheist morality.

  2. I thought the same thing when I read it: must memorize this and spout it off as much as possible. :)

  3. I very glad to see this topic picked up by atheists writers. We discussed it at length and will be the subject of episode #26 of AGP which will appear Tuesday I think.

    As was said in the podcast, I think everyone should write Random House in disgust, as well as maybe Prof. Spellberg

  4. The book is being shopped to other publishers so it may yet see the light of day.

    I've read elsewhere that some of the fictional elements injected into the story is what really set this burning. Other books on A'isha have been published in the past without fear of such a reaction so there may be something to that. Thankfully the book hasn't been locked away forever quite yet.

    My personal view of Muslims, by and large, is a positive one. The very few people I know whom are Muslim are normal, reasonable folks whom find the overreaction as shocking and deplorable as the next person. They might get offended (who doesn't?) but they keep any reaction to such things personal. They're sane, rational and damned good people whom are largely demonized by the zealots and extremists whom simply share the same basis for faith as they do.

    Quite honestly this is something I'd have otherwise skipped over on the new release table at Borders but I'll most certainly be picking it up now, simply in support of the author and what she's had to endure.

    I won't pass judgment on Random House as they're doing what they feel is right to those involved safe but I have sent off an email to them expressing my views.

    Those that would kill, harm or otherwise threaten those that don't believe what they do (for any reason, faith or ideal) is deplorable and not worthy of any form of respect I'm familiar with.

    If you want to be taken seriously start acting like rational people. The western world, generally, has such a negative view of Muslims because of those irrational masses. Hell, even just pretending to be decent, rational human being would work for me.

    Good luck to Sherry Jones in getting this published, someone willing will step up eventually.

  5. I'll pass judgement on Random House. No problemo. If a publisher won't champion free speech, who will? The news media? Ha! As far as their employees, who is working at a publishing house who doesn't value free speech enough to stand up and defend it? You want to be free of controversy and ethics, try accounting maybe. To work in the arts and EVER consider such a thing, imo, is the real blasphemy.

  6. Thanks for that, Hess. I agree that Spellberg obviously has a right to comment on the novel, just like anyone. And she might feel as an historian, with a particular stake in the subject matter, it's her responsibility to make sure the facts are straight. I'm torn here because I also respect a writer's right to, frankly, twist facts, turn them, do whatever one needs to do with them to tell a good story, or at least, the tell the story he or she wants to tell (Spellberg is being a little more pessimistic than I, insisting it was to sell books). It's artistic license. Jones wasn't claiming this to be nonfiction...it is a novel, and just like the the Da Vinci Code, if Americans are too stupid to figure out what section of Barnes & Nobles they're in when they pick up a book--fiction or nonfiction--then, really, it doesn't matter how factual the novel is, they're going to misconstrue it anyway.

    I feel my personal bias moving me towards siding with the author. All of that said, by the way, whatever the author claims, Spellberg isn't to blame for the book being pulled. That was entirely Random House's decision.

  7. But she fomented agitation among Muslims to help that decision along. She certainly didn't deny that in that letter.

  8. That might be true, but again, the final decision was with Random House. Muslims might have been, and likely would have been, bent out of shape about the book with or without Spellberg's input. I think casting the 'blame' net takes focus off what to me is the concerning basis of this, which is a publishing house's inability or unwillingness to stand up to fundamentalism.

    By the way, thanks folks for coming and playing on my blog, This might be the longest thread on a post so far. It's kind of exciting. :)

  9. Certainly Random House is to blame, but I'm not willing to gloss over Spellberg. I think what she did was ridiculous, regardless of whether Random House caved in or not.

    I've been surprised by the lack of interest in this story on atheist blogs, so I'm glad you have it. As I said earlier, you might be interested in hearing our podcast on this. It should be up around Midnight EST.

    As for your blog, give it time. One of the ways I've found to get more traffic at my own blog is by visiting other's and commenting. Whether what I say is especially clever or especially stupid, one way or another it prompts people to go check out what I might be saying on my own blog. Yes, people really do click people's profiles and see if they have blogs. ;)

  10. Thanks for the tip, PC. I need more time to surf blogs. I just need about two or three extra hours in the day. :) I do hit a few and, yeah, I click to see peoples' profiles. I probably should 'get out' more. Heh...

    I noticed a blog post over at Atheist Nexus today: http://www.atheistnexus.org/profiles/blog/show?id=2182797%3ABlogPost%3A78201

    It's a topic, though, that's forum-worthy.

  11. Well, in regards to The Chief's first comment about the podcast on this subject here it is - "Muslims, Publishers and Free Speech". I think we did a pretty thorough job on this topic if I do say so myself. Fuck Random House.

  12. I'll expand on Philly's tip about visiting others' blogs. When you've found a blog you like, and made your comment, keep following the discussion. (If the conversation is on a Blogger blog, you can subscribe, and be notified by email every time someone adds a new comment.) Take an active part. When you see comments by someone who intrigues you, click on his or her link, and join in a conversation at that blog, too. And don't be afraid to disagree with a commenter or the blogger.

    You don't have to go overboard with cruising the Atheosphere. Three or four active conversations a week shouldn't take too much time, and you'll be amazed at how your presence emanates.

    Suddenly, your own posts will start getting more comments on a regular basis.

    Oh, and get rid of that damn Word Verification feature. It's annoying and unnecessary unless you've been repeatedly hit by spambots.

  13. Ex: I don't like the word verification feature either, but I have had to clean up an awful lot of spam on my old blog. Maybe I'll remove it for a bit and see how it goes. Cheers!

  14. Just wanted to chime in and agree with exterminator on the word verification but I see it's already been removed :)