Sunday, August 10, 2008

The 'Sensitivity' Syndrome

There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged!...It is vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry peace, peace - but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! - Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775
Yes, the war declared by the Islamists on the West began years ago - nay, decades ago - but gentlemen raised on Western pragmatism and multiculturalism continue to cry peace, peace, even though the clash has caused tens of thousands of deaths and incalculable destruction - but no echo of resounding arms. The enemy will be content only with the peace of our submission and slavery, and are exploiting the multiculturalism that has forged the chains being fitted onto men's minds.

The second definition of syndrome, in The American Heritage Dictionary, is that it is "a group of signs and symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, psychological disorder, or other abnormal condition." The three ingredients of what could be called the "sensitivity" syndrome include pragmatism, multiculturalism and fear. It is a syndrome not conducive to conducting business or exercising one's freedom of speech, if one refrains from taking certain actions for fear of hurting the feelings of unknown persons who may or may not retaliate with violence. In this instance, the syndrome is indicative of de facto censorship.

The Random House decision in May to cancel the publication of Sherry Jones' novel, The Jewel of Medina, about Mohammad's child bride, Aisha, represents two developments fatal to the First Amendment and the future of freedom of speech: it is a capitulation to the "cautionary advice" that the novel might be considered "offensive" to Muslims and possibly spark a wave of violent "protest" similar to that which followed the publication of the Danish Mohammad cartoons in 2005; and it is an implicit injunction against other publishers banning the publication of any literary work that depicts Mohammad.

The Belfast Telegraph ("Next 'Satanic Verses' is shelved for fear of stirring up Islamic extremists") and other newspapers reported on August 9 (from a Reuters report of August 7) that:

"Random House deputy publisher Thomas Perry said in a statement the company 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.'"
Like the other newspapers, the Telegraph did not fully quote Perry. The complete statement, carried in The Wall Street Journal article of August 6, "You Still Can't Write About Muhammad," reads that Random House received the "cautionary advice" from "credible and unrelated sources."

"We decided," went the Random House press release, "after much deliberation, to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel."

The sources are certainly "credible" but hardly "unrelated," as will be discussed below. And the "small, radical segment" of Muslims is nothing less than a large band of killers, extortionists and fifth columnists funded by organizations with financial links to Saudi Arabia, Iran and other Islamic regimes.

The irony of Random House's decision is that the novel apparently does not paint Mohammad in critical terms. "I have deliberately and consciously written respectfully about Islam and Mohammad," said Jones. "I envisioned that my book would be a bridge-builder."

A "bridge-builder"? To connect what? The Western value of individualism and a separation of church and state, and the Eastern value of mysticism and the union of religion and state? Kipling was right. Fundamentally, the twain between East and West can never meet - unless one capitulates to the other by abandoning or surrendering its values.

The Belfast Telegraph wrote that:

"The novel traces the life of Aisha from her engagement to Mohammad, when she was six, until the Prophet's death."
Jones said, "They did have a great love story. [!!!] He died with his head on her breast."

The Telegraph said that Jones, "who has never visited the Middle East, spent several years studying Arab history. The novel, she says, is a synthesis of all she had learnt." Which was, in essence, absolutely nothing about Islam and how it is, by its nature, virulently obsessed with global conquest. Jones apparently had no objection to a barbarian raping a six - or nine-year-old girl, and the "love story" she novelized was woven from whole cloth.

The Wall Street Journal opinion piece, written by Muslim Asra Q. Nomani, even contains an excerpt from Aisha's wedding night: "The pain of consummation soon melted away. Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life."

All nine years? That kind of writing should have appeared in a Harlequin Romance style bodice-ripper that celebrated pedophilia and child molestation. But, under the imprint of a major publisher, Ballantine, a subsidiary of Random House?

But Jones' ignorance of and naiveté about Islam and the publisher's tastelessness are irrelevant. Random House ought to have been free to publish her novel without fear of consequence, except for the probable loss of its investment in the book. (Jones received a $100,000 advance for that title and a sequel.) More likely than making waves as a literary work, it would have been lost in the swamp of undifferentiated fiction that publishers gurgitate every year. Muslims who might have objected to it - their "sensitivities" or feelings having been abused - might not have even become aware of its existence.

The New York Times, once a champion of freedom of speech but now a yeah-sayer in political correctness and "sensitivity," merely noted the development in a one-paragraph article on August 9, "Random House Cancels Novel with Islamic Themes."

"Carol Schneider, a spokeswoman for Random House, said on Friday that the company 'requested that it be postponed indefinitely' after consulting with experts and receiving unsolicited advice. 'We thought it was not a good time, with tensions running as high as they do, to publish this,' Ms. Schneider said."
No, Muslims might have remained oblivious to the novel's existence, but for Denise A. Spellberg, associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. According to most of the newspaper and wire service reports, it was she who unleashed the dogs of fear.

Having been sent an advance copy of The Jewel of Medina by Random House, in hopes of her writing a jacket blurb endorsing the novel, Spellberg's first action after reading it was to call a Muslim and guest lecturer in Spellberg's classes, Shahed Amanullah, to warn him about the book because, she said, according to the WSJ article, the novel "made fun of Muslims and their history" and that she found the novel "incredibly offensive." Amanullah subsequently emailed other Muslims about the book, even though he had not read it and was taking her word for it.

The next day Spellberg called Random House/Knopf editor Jane Garrett with dire warnings about the consequences of publishing the book, calling its scheduled publication a "declaration of war," a "national security issue," and claiming that the novel was "far more controversial than [Salman Rushdie's] The Satanic Verses and the Danish cartoons." How anyone could imagine that Jones' novel could have been any of those things is only a clue to the inflated importance Spellberg must place on her role in "building bridges," multiculturalist "bridges" which she would not want to see burned in defense of someone else's freedom of speech. (And this is one example of how multiculturalism is anti-Western and a destroyer.)

It is not so curious that, having first alerted the Muslim grapevine about the book - surely with the knowledge that some "extremist" or "radicalized" Muslims just might want to conspire to bomb Random House's offices or set up picket lines outside of them or murder Jones in "protest" of the novel - Spellberg then warned the publisher of those very dangers. This is tantamount to setting a fire in a crowded theater, then shouting "Fire!" Draw your own conclusions about her motivation, but whatever the conclusion, her actions were contemptible.

Random House's executives and editors, "sensitive" to these dangers, some two weeks later terminated Jones' publishing contract, freeing her shop the novel with other publishers. This "sensitivity" was not a reflection of their "respect" for Islam and Muslims, but of their fear of violence and even possible lawsuits.

In a letter to the WSJ on August 9, "I Didn't Kill 'The Jewel of Medina,'" Spellberg accuses Nomani of "falsely" asserting that she was the "instigator" behind Random House's decision, blithely forgetting that but for her actions, no one would have paid any serious attention to Jones' novel.

In her letter, Spellberg asserts that as an "expert on Aisha's life, I felt it was my professional responsibility to counter this novel's fallacious representation of a very real woman's life." How could she be an "expert" on the life of a figure who may or may not have existed? Islam's "history" is no more credible or factually based than is Christianity's, completely absent of proof, relying mostly on tongue-in-cheek episodes invented by theologians and scribes for the sake of the gullible and the credulous. Spellberg is as much an "authority" on Aisha as Sherry Jones.

Spellberg further claims in her letter that she does 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." But the kind of censorship she instigated was a cabal whose specific purpose was to stop the publication of a book with which she disagreed. Instead, she lays blame for the decision - one with which she agrees - entirely on the doorstep of Random House.

One is at a loss to fault Random House for caving in to the hypothetical dangers of publishing Jones' novel. Weighing the possible expenses of fortifying its business offices against Muslim terrorists and protecting the lives of anyone connected with Jones' novel - certainly an abnormal condition of existence - one can hardly blame the publisher for its decision. What is regarded as "normal" today is a perceived necessity to defer to the threat of harassment or physical force.

After all, Random House has been paying taxes to our government to protect it from domestic criminals and foreign invaders - to ensure its enjoyment of the First Amendment without risk of molestation by any party, religious, "offended" or otherwise - a task which, vis-à-vis Islamists, our government has not performed with a shred of effectiveness.

Where would we be today if men were "sensitive" to the tensions that led to Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, and decided it "was not a good time" to take a stand? There were men like that in 18th century America, but fortunately their "cautionary advice" was ignored. The "sensitivity" syndrome has made modern Americans insensible to what they have been surrendering and giving up.

The gales have been sweeping from the north for over a generation, but today's gentlemen either ignore them or do not notice them.


Rob said...

How ironic that not only is Random the publisher of Atlas Shrugged, but UT Austin is the school where Objectivist philosopher Tara Smith teaches.

Ed said...

Hi, Rob:

Random House sold the publishing rights to Atlas Shrugged years ago to the Penguin Group, one of the most foolish business decisions RH has ever made, considering that they didn't need to spend a cent in marketing the novel. And, UT-Austin is a hotbed of leftist-liberal academia. Tara Smith and her colleagues there are exceptions to the rule.

Ed Cline

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

That Random House was craven in the face of idiocy is absolutely true. However, their decision, being that of a private company has no bearing on the First Amendment which states: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."
The Bill of Rights restrains Congress and the Federal government.

That said, Random house certainly sent a chilling message to authors and other publishers, and the goons won.

If the Muslim extremists wish to riot, then they are responsible for the consequences, not the publisher.

Ed said...

Elisheva cited the First Amendment:
"Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."

This is true. But if private companies or individuals cannot count on the government to recognize the gravity of that statement, and caves in because they know no action will be taken against their "stalkers," then it certainly is relevant and has a great deal of bearing on the matter. For all practical purposes, today the Bill of Rights is a dead letter. Perhaps Random House and its lawyers know that and have just thrown up their hands (as have many other individuals and companies).

Also, I didn't assert that Random House would be responsible for the consequences of Muslim violence. That action is wholly in the Islamists' ball court. What Random House's action amounts to is a perilous and, as you put it, "chilling" precedent.

Ed Cline

djr said...

Great read Ed, as always. I read this this morning, then heard this on "To the Best of Our Knowledge". I hope you can get a few minutes to listen to it. It lifted me up a bit to see that (1) this guy would make a career of this and (2) TTBOOK would dare to interview him in a reasonbly good light.
- Best, Dan



Kumail Nanjiani is a Pakistani standup comedian living in Chicago and performing a one-man show called "Unpronounceable." He talks with Steve Paulson about his culture shock upon moving to America and how he came to lose his faith in the Koran. And we hear a clip from his show.