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Jewel of Medina Update

Last week in my post about Banned Books Week I mentioned a developing story regarding a London bombing associated with The Jewel of Medina, a book about Muhammad and his youngest, favorite, child-wife Aisha.  I’ve been getting Google Alerts and reading as much about the controversy as I can, and am going to try to sum-up most of what’s happened in this post for anyone that is interested.

On Friday, Sept. 26, the North London home office of Martin Rynja, publisher of the US press Gibson Square, was firebombed.  No one was injured in the attack because police had advance warning and were able to evacuate the house before the bomb went off.  UK police treated the attack as a terrorist act, and have since arrested and charged three men with “two counts each of conspiracy to destroy property and endanger life.”

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Gibson Square was unsure whether they would publish the book. According to a story published yesterday, they still had not decided whether to publish the book in Britain or not.

Beaufort Books, the American publisher for The Jewel of Medina, closed its office the Monday after the attacks because of security concerns.  Days later, in an effort to “reduce or eliminate the chance of violence,” the president of Beaufort Books, Eric Kampmann announced that The Jewel of Medina would be published today, October 6 — nine days earlier than the original October 15 release date.

The Jewel of Medina was originally going to be published by Random House, but the publisher dropped the book back in August after controversy first arose.  There is a great editorial by Asra Q. Nomani of the Wall Street Journal with all the juicy details.  Basically, after ARC copies of the book were sent out, Dr. Denise Spellberg, associate professor of history at the University of Texas in Austin, started letting people all over the place know how she felt about the book.  Dr. Spellberg told Nomani the novel was a “very ugly, stupid piece of work” and “I don’t have a problem with historical fiction. I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history. You can’t play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography.”

Author Sherry Jones has repeatedly stated that her book doesn’t have sex scenes in it.  You can read the passage I found on this blog and be your own judge of that.  GalleyCat readers, who have read the book, seem to agree with Jones on this count.  Thus far, Jones has not been targeted by any attacks and has said, “I’m excited that the book is coming out because once people read it, any possible threat will be eliminated.”

The Jewel of Medina is about the “epic love story” of Muhammed and Aisha, the youngest bride of the prophet.  Historians have placed her age at between nine and eleven when she married Muhammed, and many think she was his favorite wife, holding on to favor even after Muhammed took many other wives.

A lot of columns and news stories have compared this event to the bombings and attacks that took place in response to Salaman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that (given what little I know about that controversy), but it is still evidence that times don’t always change as fast as we wish they did.  There are a lot of issues to think about in this whole mess, and I have to admit I haven’t had time to sift through all of them just yet.  It was really helpful to read through all these articles, but I think any commentary I have is just going to have to wait as we see how this unfolds now that the book is officially published in the U.S.

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  • bexadler October 6, 2008, 6:17 pm

    Wow, thanks for the update and all the links. Ever since reading “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, I’ve been interested in Aisha so this book is one I’ll definitely pick up. I’m glad it’s going to be released despite the threats.

  • Kim October 6, 2008, 9:06 pm

    bexadler: You’re welcome for the info. I’m glad it’s going to be released too, I’m curious what the British publisher is going to decide in the wake of his building being bombed. It’s continues to surprise me that bombing a building is somehow considered an appropriate response to something like a book.