Something terrible is happening today. Sherry Jones’ first novel The Jewel of Medina is not being published. I haven’t read the book — a fictional recreation of the life of one of Mohammed’s wives — but I know for a fact that the history of literature and thought will be poorer for its absence.
Random House, having scheduled the book for an August 12 publication, canceled it after an American academic roused Muslims to protest. The publishers say they received “cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”
It goes without saying that Random House has behaved shamefully — as shamefully as the New York Times and much of the rest of the mainstream media acted when they refused to publish the Danish cartoons mocking Mohammed or when they attacked Pope Benedict for his civilized criticism of Islam instead of the Islamic mobs who murdered and rioted in response. These almost casual capitulations are deeply disturbing. Decades of political correctness (the doctrine that there is virtue in speaking falsely) and multiculturalism (the doctrine that one set of values is as good as another) have weakened the confidence of the intellectual classes in the cultural inheritance of the West. They no longer even seem to understand what they’re supposed to be standing up for.
But equally disturbing to me is the defense of the novel mounted by the author and by Asra Q. Nomani in the Wall Street Journal. Now first, let me say that Ms. Nomani is a courageous journalist who has crusaded for the rights of women within Islam. I speak of her with respect, but I respectfully disagree with her point of view. Ms. Nomani writes that Random House’s cave-in “upsets me as a Muslim — and as a writer who believes that fiction can bring Islamic history to life in a uniquely captivating and humanizing way.” The understandably devastated Ms. Jones told Reuters, “I have deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Mohammed. … I envisioned that my book would be a bridge-builder.” Ms. Nomani further assures us that Islam permits historical fiction and that, according to the Koran, Mohammed is only mortal.