Book? What book? Was there a book?

About this non-ecumenical book that Jeremy and I wrote, that is due out at the end of this week. Yes, what about it, you’re thinking, all agog. For reasons which I will explain another day, the publisher became nervous about it last Friday. The publisher phoned us on Friday, and talked of changes, or delays, or would we like to drop a chapters. We would not like to drop a chapter, and if we had liked to drop a chapter, the time to discuss that would have been several months ago, not now, a week before the book is supposed to appear. The publisher sent the can-we-drop-it chapter to an ecumenicist to get his opinion.

The publisher sent the chapter to an ecumenicist to get his opinion.

The ecumenicist will not like it. The ecumenicist will hate it. The ecumenicist specializes in Muslim-Christian relations. This book is not about Muslim-Christian relations, and it did not set out to improve Muslim-Christian relations, and it was not shaped in such a way as to improve Muslim-Christian relations. That means the ecumenicist is the wrong kind of person to be vetting our chapter. One might as well send a book on animal rights to a butcher for vetting. One might as well send a book on workers’ rights to someone at the American Enterprise Institute for vetting. One might as well send a book on wetlands preservation to a cement manufacturer for vetting. For that matter one might as well send our book to the pope for vetting. We did not write this book to please ecumenicists, or popes or mullahs or heads of bible colleges or ‘spiritual leaders’ of any kind. If the publisher wanted their imprimatur, the publisher should have turned the book down from the outset, in the same way that Verso did. Verso was interested at first, then decided that after all it wasn’t, because it was uneasy about the subject matter. Verso publishes the messages to the world of Osama bin Laden so naturally it’s uneasy about our subject matter – but it said so before we took the trouble to write the book, which was civil of it. Our publisher, on the other hand, let us write it, and make a few minor changes at their suggestion, and go on our way rejoicing, and did not get to the bit about being uneasy until, as mentioned, last Friday, a week before the book is supposed to come out.

The publisher asked us not to do anything until after the long weekend, and we said okay (without enthusiasm). But now the publisher has scheduled a conference call for tomorrow. The publisher would not have bothered to do this if the outcome were ‘Never mind, it was just a case of the fantods, we’ll be going ahead as planned, sorry to trouble you.’ The publisher will be saying or asking or suggesting or demanding something tomorrow, and there is no something. We’ve done our work. We’ve done what we were supposed to do. The period for revision and proofreading ended several months ago. The book is supposed to appear in less than a week. There is no something that will not fuck things up for us and for the book. If the publisher wanted to do that the publisher should have done it a long time ago – not now.

The publisher, in short, should not be doing a Random House, but it looks as if that’s exactly what the publisher is doing. And this is without any intervention by Denise Spellberg.

So the internalized self-censorship that Kenan Malik is so incisive about will, it appears, strike another blow for silence. Only this time the book being silenced is not a badly-written bodice-ripper about Aisha and her romance with Mr Unmentionable, it’s a well-written book about religion and the subordination of women. It will be a bad thing if this book is silenced.

We are not pleased.

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