Saturday, August 09, 2008

Don't buy anymore Random House (US) books and products

The US based publishing house Random House (owned by German conglomerate Bertelsmann) has just pulled the book 'The Jewel of Medina' by Sherry Jones off the shelves. It's essentially a story about the Prophet Muhammad's child bride A'isha. As with all novels (as opposed to history books) the author reportedly described some sex scenes between M and A'isha. Of course nobody as been there when/if it happened, so nobody could possibly know. It's a novel after all. For what it's worth the bits and piece that I have seen seemed innocent enough, but then, I'm a small 'l' liberal when it comes to matters sex. The reason given for withdrawing the book is not that it's a bad novel, but that it could (sic!) be (according to Random House) offensive to some (sic!) Muslims, and that it "could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment".

One wonders ... most atheists probably couldn't publish with Random House any longer either, after all, there could always be a small fanatic minority of believers that could react violently. If that is sufficient these days for a mainstream publishing house to execute censorship, we might as well call it a day as far as freedom of expression in liberal democracies is concerned!

Worse in a way, the impact of this decision on writers surely must be some kind of self-censorship. After all, if you know that your content covering religions or religious figureheads could be controversial, you also know that likely you won't be able to sell it to mainstream publishers - well, at least you'd have to be stupid trying to sell it to Random House. My conclusion: for the time being I won't be buying any Random House products (ironically, Rushdie's stuff is still among them - well, I assume that his work could not possible incite violence among a small minority of religious fundamentalists ... or something like that).

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