Denise Spellberg clears things up. She didn’t ‘single-handedly stop the book’s publication’ – ah that’s good to know; she had help. She says.
Random House made its final decision based on the advice of other scholars, conveniently not named in the article, and based ultimately on its determination of corporate interests.
Ah yes! Quite! Those bastards – those capitalist bastards – they have corporate interests – so really it’s Random House that is the guilty party here, not a ‘scholar’ who sees fit to tell someone to ‘warn Muslims’ about a novel and to tell Random House that said novel is ”a declaration of war…a national security issue’. Well certainly Random House acted like chickenshits, but deploying the right-on anticorporate jargon won’t quite deflect attention from the excited intervention of Spellberg. It’s too late for that, pal.
As a historian invited to “comment” on the book by its Random House editor at the author’s express request, I objected strenuously to the claim that “The Jewel of Medina” was “extensively researched,” as stated on the book jacket.
Fine – and you could have said that – in the usual way. That’s not the issue.
The author and the press brought me into a process, and I used my scholarly expertise to assess the novel. It was in that same professional capacity that I felt it my duty to warn the press of the novel’s potential to provoke anger among some Muslims.
But you didn’t just warn the press, did you. You also told Shahed Amanullah ‘to warn Muslims’ – was it ‘in that same professional capacity’ that you tried to arouse the very anger you warned Random House about? What was your goal in urging Amanullah to ‘warn Muslims’ if it wasn’t to stir up anger? And what, precisely, is professional about that?
There is a long history of anti-Islamic polemic that uses sex and violence to attack the Prophet and his faith. This novel follows in that oft-trodden path, one first pioneered in medieval Christian writings.
So what? Is ‘anti-Islamic polemic’ illegal or self-evidently illegitimate in some way? Is it your professional duty to determine that? (If so, why?) If you think that’s unfortunate, you could have just said that in your comment, but that’s not the same thing as setting off alarms all over the place.
The novel provides no new reading of Aisha’s life, but actually expands upon provocative themes regarding Muhammad’s wives first found in an earlier novel by Salman Rushdie, “The Satanic Verses,” which I teach. I do not espouse censorship of any kind, but I do value my right to critique those who abuse the past without regard for its richness or resonance in the present.
Bullshit. You’re all over the place. So the novel expands on provocative themes via Rushdie – again, so what? Novelists do that; novelists are influenced by other novelists (I rather think Rushdie himself is influenced by other novelists, and would say as much if you asked him); novelists expand on themes; so what? And so you teach The Satanic Verses; big whoop; are we supposed to be impressed, after all this? And as for that last bit of self-serving crap – of course you espouse censorship of any kind! You’ve just been doing exactly that, so you can’t just say you don’t when everyone can see you do. And – you didn’t just critique the Jones book, did you. You know you didn’t. Come on – ‘professional’ bullshit isn’t going to salvage your reputation now.
If Ms. Nomani and readers of the Journal wish to allow literature to “move civilization forward,” then they should read a novel that gets history right.
No doubt, but again, that is not the issue. You didn’t write a review, or a critique, or a comment for the publishers; you did much more than that; so it’s no good pretending you were merely proffering some healthful literary advice.