You may have thought the public discourse couldn’t get any more absurd. Think again. Apparently oblivious to the titanic dimensions of the irony, the publisher Little, Brown just canceled a new book, Welcome to the Woke Trials: How #Identity Killed Progressive Politics by British journalist Julie Burchill because of an “Islamophobic” twitter exchange Burchill had with Muslim writer Ash Sarkar. So you see, it’s fine to stand up for freedom of speech, but some lines must not be crossed. And what was Burchill’s crime? Did she use racial slurs? Did she call for genocide or violence against innocent Muslims? No, apparently all she did was note the readily demonstrable fact that according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad married a child. But telling the truth is a dangerous enterprise these days.
According to The National, the Hachette group, which owns Little, Brown, announced that Burchill’s book “has been scrapped by her publisher for what it said were Islamophobic comments.”
The book, according to the report, “was promoted as a ‘characteristically irreverent and entertaining’ indictment of the ‘outrage mob.’” But the outrage mob was not outraged by anything in the book itself. It was evidently outraged because Burchill asked Sarkar, “Can you please remind me of the age of the Prophet Mohammad’s first wife?”
Burchill is clearly speaking about Muhammad’s child bride Aisha, not his first wife, Khadija, who was fifteen years older than he was. But that’s just a detail. Commenters raked Burchill over the coals for her supposed hypocrisy for ignoring child marriage in British history and claiming that Mary was a child when she married Joseph. Yet none of that was on point. No one would care about Muhammad’s child marriage were his behavior not normative for Islamic law and imitated by all too many Muslims even today. So what Burchill said, aside from mixing up the order of Muhammad’s wives, was entirely based on fact.
Now, there is a possibility that Burchill’s child marriage remarks were not the “Islamophobic comments” in question. It may be that there were other exchanges between Burchill and Sarkar that Twitter has deleted. The National fastidiously refrains from telling us what egregious thing Burchill is supposed to have said. But it is bitterly ironic that Burchill’s book on cancel culture has now been canceled for whatever it is she said. That rather proves her point, doesn’t it?
Sarkar egged on the outrage mob, writing: Ms. Sarkar tweeted: “Julie Burchill, who once I suppose was a well-regarded journalist, has quite openly subjected me to Islamophobia on here. I’m a big girl – it’s not going to upset me – but I do find it strange that none of her colleagues or friends in the industry seems to have a problem with it.”
“Her colleagues and friends in the industry” accordingly jumped to show how broad-minded and non-Islamophobic they were, and quickly threw Burchill under the bus. Little, Brown’s statement is a repugnant stew of self-contradiction, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy: “We will no longer be publishing Julie Burchill’s book. This is not a decision we have taken lightly. We believe passionately in freedom of speech at Little, Brown and we have always published authors with controversial or challenging perspectives – and we will continue to do so.”
No, Little, Brown, you don’t believe in the freedom of speech. Clearly there are controversial or challenging perspectives you don’t dare publish. Claiming to believe in the freedom of speech while canceling a controversial book is like claiming to be a little bit pregnant. You either believe in the freedom of speech or you don’t. And you don’t.
Little, Brown continued: “While there is no legal definition of hate speech in the UK, we believe that Julie’s comments on Islam are not defensible from a moral or intellectual standpoint, that they crossed a line with regard to race and religion, and that her book has now become inextricably linked with those views.”
What race is Islam again? I keep forgetting. The charge of “hate speech” is a tool of the powerful to silence the powerless. This ugly incident shows vividly how it is used to stifle dissent. Burchill’s question should have sparked a debate about child marriage, and about Sharia and its relationship to British law. Instead, Burchill’s book is canceled, signaling that such discussions are not to be tolerated. Little, Brown’s action shows how much the West has already accepted and internalized the Sharia prohibition of criticism of Islam. Britain’s protracted demise as a free society continues apace.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 21 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.