Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The "Sensitivity" Syndrome II

One wishes that courage was spent on causes and actions worthy of the virtue. Last August, in "The 'Sensitivity' Syndrome," I commented on Random House's cancellation of the publication of Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina, a kind of feminist "bodice-ripper" novel about Aisha, the child-bride of Mohammad, for fear of Islamic "extremist" violence. The novel, if published in August as planned by Ballantine, a subsidiary of Random House, I noted, would have quickly sunk out of sight into the morass of mediocre fiction which the trade regularly churns out, but for the efforts of a non-Muslim provocateur, associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Denise Spellberg.

Spellberg was sent a review copy by the publisher for her endorsement in the form of a jacket blurb. Instead, she first warned the Muslim grapevine that it offended Islam, and the next day warned Random House of possible "extremist violence." She claimed, among other things, that the "sacred history" of Mohammad had been turned by Jones into "soft core pornography."

"I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history," she claimed in an email. What she apparently does not have a problem with is inciting violence among Muslims, who, without Spellberg's calling attention to the novel, might have remained ignorant of its existence. What any other writer should have a problem with was her calculated conspiracy to see the novel unpublished through censorship by fear. She called the novel a "very ugly, stupid piece of work." That description more aptly applies to Spellberg's actions.

The publication rights to the novel were bought by a small British publisher, Gibson Square, which has published other controversial books, including Londonistan, by Melanie Phillips, which details the gradual submission of Britain and the British government to Islam, and Blow up Russia, by Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered by Vladimir Putin's agents in London.

On September 27, Muslims firebombed the London home of Martin Rynja, the Dutch publisher and owner of Gibson Square. Rynja's home also served as the offices of the book-publishing firm. Gibson Square announced on September 5 that it had bought the publication rights to Jones's novel and planned to publish it. Another small publisher, Beaufort Books of New York, in cooperation with Gibson Square, plans to publish The Jewel of Medina in the U.S., and has signed a contract for its sequel. Last Monday Beaufort Books closed its office as a precaution against similar censorship by violence. Rynja is presumably now in hiding or under police protection, and publication of the novel in Britain or in the U.S. remains to be seen.

Three Muslims have been arrested, two of them outside Rynja's home. That aspect of the incident is curious. Scotland Yard's Special Branch, in an undisclosed undercover operation, had knowledge of the conspiracy to firebomb the house and presumably murder Rynja, who was told to leave. The police waited for two of the suspects to actually commit the arson by shoving a container of gas through Rynja's letterbox, which ignited inside the house, before collaring the two Muslims. Then the police and firefighters had to break down the front door to extinguish the fire. The house is now vacant.

So one might wonder why the police waited until the Muslims had actually committed a crime they were certain was going to occur, instead of arresting them before Rynja was compelled to leave and his home was damaged. The police's odd behavior is linked to the fear of the authorities of being accused of racial or religious "profiling," an illogical policy that debilitates Britain's counter-terrorism efforts (and also the U.S.'s).

Aside from the presumed undercover operation that netted them knowledge of the suspects' intentions, the police refused to risk arresting two Muslims who were walking around London with an incendiary device at two o'clock in the morning in the vicinity of the intended victim's neighborhood as not grounds enough for action. That is, the police and the courts would have likely accepted the Muslim position that it was not grounds enough for action. This is another face of the "sensitivity syndrome" that is requisite for submission to Islam and Sharia law.

Leaving aside Rynja's literary esteem for Jones's novel - "I was completely bowled over by the novel and the moving love story it portrays," he said weeks before the firebombing - Rynja expressed the proper moral position against censorship by firebombing, government edict, or by popular opinion. "I immediately felt that it was imperative to publish it. In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear."

Going by descriptions of The Jewel of Medina, I do not plan to read the novel.

"Described by critics as a tale of 'lust, love and intrigue in the Prophet's harem,' The Jewel of Medina traces the life of Aisha, Mohammed's favorite wife. It tells of her marriage aged nine to Mohammed, who is much older, and how she is forced to use her wits and sword to defend her position as he takes another 12 wives and concubines," reported the Daily Mail.

"The novel also tells how, at 14, Aisha almost betrays her husband after they are separated as they travel together. She is rescued by a childhood friend who tries to seduce her. She resists, but the scandal rocks Medina. When she returns, a mob accuses her of adultery. Mohammed's friends urge him to divorce her, but he tells them: 'I would just as soon cut out my own heart.'"
Not exactly on the level of Othello. But one imagines that Muslim objections to the novel dwell on the portrayals of Aisha as a Wahhabist Wonder Woman and of Mohammad as a guy with a heart of gold who wouldn't dream of allowing his favorite wife to be stoned to death or beheaded on the rumor that she had committed adultery, which is the kind of punishment that Saudi and other theocratic courts mete out to wayward women. Aisha's and Mohammad's actions contradict Islamic moral and social norms; those actions are at variance with Sharia law; therefore Muslims are offended by the novel and oppose its publication.

And oppose the novel they do, and any form of representation of Mohammad in word or image, as the reaction to the Danish cartoons demonstrated in 2005, or any criticism of Islam or Muslims that could be interpreted as "religious hatred" or "incitement" to it by both Muslims and Britain's suborned judicial system. One Muslim cleric, Omar Bakri, was outspoken about the fate of those who were in any way associated with publication of The Jewel of Medina, that the firebombing of Rynja's home was but "the thin edge of the wedge."

Another Muslim cleric also weighed in.

"...[T]he radical cleric Anjem Choudhary said the book was an insult to the Prophet Mohammed's honor, something he said would warrant a 'death penalty' under Sharia law."
Note the qualifier in Choudhary's description as a "radical" cleric. This is also a form of "sensitivity," which blanks out the fact that any Muslim cleric must be "radical" by definition of Sharia law and its imposition on both Muslims and non-Muslims. There is no "moderate," conciliatory form of Islam, just as there can be no such thing as a "moderate" Muslim willing to observe secular law at the price of compromising his religious beliefs. Islamic clerics warn of punishment of Muslims who do recognize the validity of secular law. An Islam that made such a concession to secular law would no longer be Islam, no longer be "extreme," and no longer be a threat to the West.

Compare the Telegraph article with that of the New York Times of September 29, "Attack May Be Tied to Book About Muhammad." It "may be"? Was Rynja being threatened by Christian Scientists or Jehovah's Witnesses, or by members of Holiness, a branch of the Mennonites? Submission to Islam is evident on both sides of the Atlantic.

A sample of official Islamic mental gymnastics may be seen in a Daily Telegraph opinion piece from 2004, "We need protection from the pedlars of religious hatred," by the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

There is no point in warning that the same brand of submission to Islam can happen in the U.S. It already has, as the action of Random House has demonstrated, and also the evasive manner in which especially the federal government and the news media sensitively treat Islamic "extremism."

Sensitivity's other name is self-censorship, and opposition to it has fallen to small publishers and those who would defend them at renewed risk, such as Salman Rushdie, subject of a similar fatwa of reprisals in 1989 for The Satanic Verses. The champions of the freedom of speech have always been in a minority, and very often they have made a difference. Never minding its literary value or lack of it, we should hope that Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina sees the light of day.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where can I buy it?!

Anonymous said...

The Jewel of Medina, I presume. Its official release date here in the U.S. is October 20th. If not in a local bookstore, then thru Amazon Books.

Ed

Anonymous said...

Giving without reserve

It is with reticence that I write this. I do not wish to place myself on the moral high ground, or to sermonise anyone. This chapter tries to show the truth and importance of dreaming of our Holy Prophet Muhammad . These words seek to confirm that ours is a Prophet of Mercy, a Witness, and a Bearer of Good Tidings. It also aims to portray the consequence of da’waat in the Masjid al-Haram. It is moreover meant as a method of encouragement for our children to some day continue with the Prophetic Tradition of raising an orphan for the sake of Allah, The One of Unbounded Grace. So that they may by this means know that there is more to life than just prayer and fasting. And that they should give of themselves unreservedly. That they might through it also, temper their adhkaar with compassion.

We were asleep at the Mashrabiyya Hotel in Khalid bin Walid Street in Shubayka, Makkah al-Mukarramah when, by the Mercy of Allah, I had the most beautiful dream. I saw myself standing in the holy presence of our Truthful Prophet Muhammad . The appearance of the Holy Messenger of Allah matched scriptural records.
Our Prophet was spotlessly dressed in white robes and a white turban. I stared aghast. Our Prophet stood about two metres away and faced me directly. Someone so unimaginably holy, so indescribably handsome, one will not come across. I do not have the words with which to suitably portray this most wonderful man, the Seal of the Prophets .
I reached for my turban, embarrassed for having only a skullcap on my head.
“Leave it,” I said to myself. “You are in the Company of the Prize of creation.”
Brilliance shone from our Guided Prophet . Our Prophet smiled at me. The smile radiated light. I stood alert, too humbled to speak. I wished that the dream would last forever. The heavenly smile lasted between ten and fifteen minutes, it felt like.

Alhamdu-lillaah. I had never considered myself deserving of such an enormous honour. This was a spiritual experience of the first magnitude. “What does that smile mean?” I wondered. “Why is our Heroic Prophet Muhammad so extremely pleased?” I asked myself over and over again. I stared at the House of Allah for extended periods, contemplating its meaning.

Deep in thought, I barely noticed the usually persuasive central-African women selling bird-seed as I walked back and forth from the Masjid al-Haram. I was hardly aware of the Turkish female who was dealing in steel daggers at the side of the street. Two men eagerly collecting on behalf of Bosnian refugees also failed to draw my attention. I half-heard a Pakistani lad calling out the price of bottled perfume to prospective customers alongside the road. Malaysian girls trading informally with scarves only just caught my eye. Part of the street had been freshly tarred.

“Unless you receive the sort of treatment that a host bestows on a guest, don’t ever think that, because you have performed the ziyaarah of the Bait-ullaah, you’ve been the guest of Allah,” my father had once counselled me.
A similar comment from my uncle, Haji Suleiman, I had further recollected. He had said to me: “Die persoon was Makkah toe – vra vir hom wat het hy gekry.” This rendered into English, says: “The person has been to Mecca – ask him what he had received [there].”
I considered his observation a bit harsh then, but the force of his remark was now bearing home on me. He knew what he was talking about. “’Ammie Haji” had taught the Haj for more than fifty years. For him it had happened very quickly. Aged twenty-five on his first Haj in 1949, Haji Suleiman had landed inside the Holy Ka’aba when someone lifted him head-high and tossed him over the 2.25 metre high threshold of the Bait-ullaah. “Did you not get hurt?” I inquired further. “No!” he responded excitedly. “I was young and fit, and had landed on my feet,” he continued proudly. Once over the doorsill, he did not have too far to fall, as the inside floor was 2.2 metres above the ground.
’Ammie Haji performed two cycles of discretionary salawaat once inside. Till his dying day, he wondered who had done him the good turn.

Every Muslim who had walked on the holy soil had the potential for such an experience, I realised. Such incidents might have been more prevalent than was ordinarily heard of, I thought. I had for a long time suspected that at least some pilgrims who repeatedly visited the Holy Land, apart from drawing from its built-in holiness, did not preclude themselves from offerings of this nature. It would be silly to think that parallels could not be drawn with Madinah in occurrences of this kind. It would also have been reasonable to expect wondrous incidents of this nature to occur in Jerusalem, as the major Middle Eastern religions agreed on the sanctity of this, the City of the Farthest Mosque. Thinking that this sort of happening was in any way unique to myself, was ludicrous.

Part of my da'waat in the Holy Mosque in Mecca, was to ask Allah, The One Who Makes Clear to us His signs so that we may be grateful, to Grant to ourselves the opportunity and blessings of raising an orphan for His sake.

Having the money with which to afford to go on Haj has always been its first consideration. There were many people who had performed the Holy Pilgrimage more often than I. With regard to my parting from the Holy City, though, I had received a fascinating send-off.

My wife and I had, over a number of years, tried to adopt a baby by applying at several local agencies, and were given all sorts of excuses which disqualified, and sometimes discouraged us. Reasons given were that we were not married according to South African law, that few babies from local Muslim parents came up for adoption, and the fact that we have children of our own. We were also faced with, what was to my mind, the worse aspect of the South African race laws. These regulations and those administering it, in this case, the social workers, prescribed that a ‘brown’ orphaned child had to be matched with ‘brown’ adoptive parents. A ‘yellow’ baby could only be placed with prospective ‘yellow’ adoptive parents, a ‘white’ orphan could not be raised by ‘black’ adoptive parents, and so on. They played dominoes with human lives. Some social workers were more ready to read the ‘race act’ than others.
In an interview and in response to a question on whether we would mind adopting a child from a ‘lower rung’ of the colour scale, I told them that “a nice green one would do.”
A jab to my ribs from my wife quickly halted the acid flow down the sides of my mouth. Stirring the ire of our then masters by criticising their political beliefs would not help, she meant. “When the white boss tells a joke, and regardless of its lack of humour – laugh!” she chided me later.
Race inequalities existing at the time ensured that hundreds of black orphans went begging in more ways than one. It virtually excluded us from adopting a child. No orphans that matched our race and blood mix were on offer and they weren’t likely to easily present themselves for adoption, we were told. My wife is of Indian (as in “Indian” from India, as opposed to “American” Indian) stock and I am of (well) mixed blood.

On the morning of Wednesday, 1st June 1994, just three days after arriving back home from Haj, we received a telephone call from Melanie Van Emmenes of the Child Welfare Society. She explained that a five-month old girl had come up for adoption. The baby had earlier undergone successful abdominal surgery and she asked whether we would adopt the child. We jumped at the chance.

A rush of adrenaline replaced the after-effects of travel. We were rejuvenated. Capetonians usually visit local pilgrims before departure and also on their arrival back home. We excused ourselves from the few visitors and asked my mother-in-law to host them in our absence. My wife and I immediately went to the Adoption Centre in Eden Road, Claremont. We signed the necessary papers.

Afterwards, we told our children that we were about to receive an addition to the family. We plodded through a maze of red tape in order to legalise the process. (My wife and I had to marry in court because Muslim marriages were not recognised then, believe it or not). A few days later, my wife, brother and I collected the petite infant from a foster-mother in Newfields Estate. I shall never forget the joyous feeling when I first carried the frail waif past the front door. Her name is Makkia. We named her after the great city from which we had just returned.

Taking her into our modest home is one of the better things that we have done. Makkia has added a marvellous dimension to our lives. She is part of our life’s-work. I shall always be grateful to the people who had assisted us with the adoption.

Adoption is the most effective form of da’wah. Raising an orphan means giving from the innermost recesses of one’s heart. Adoption springs from the soul of the adoptive parent. When a child is orphaned, we cry. God cries more.

The meaning behind the glowing smile from our Trustworthy Prophet Muhammad had played itself out in the most delightful way. My dream shows our Prophet’s level of awareness and highlights his profound love for orphans and how kindly he looks on raising an orphan. It demonstrates that raising an orphan is an immensity before God. In our Prophet we have a beautiful pattern of conduct. Our Affectionate Prophet Muhammad , also, had raised a destitute child. Like a lamp that spreads light, the Messenger of Allah invites to the Grace of Allah by His leave. Our Divinely-inspired Prophet is the first of the God-fearing. No person is better than him. Our Prophet Muhammad is the leader of the prophets. He is without sin. Our Prophet is faultless and the foremost of those who submit to the Will of Allah. An exemplar to those who worship God, our Kind-hearted Prophet Muhammad is the beacon of the pious. He is an inspiration to those who are thankful to God and the leader of those who remember Allah . How should I express gratitude to the Holy Messenger of Allah for his kind intervention? I am unworthy of untying the thongs of our Prophet’s sandals.

May Allah, The One Who Befriends the righteous, Send His Richest Peace and Blessings Upon our Holy Prophet Muhammad and On his family and companions, as much and as often as Allah Wills.

Allah, The One Who Is Sufficient For those who put their trust in Him, Had Granted our want through the barakah of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad .

I’ve been fairly constant about wearing a turban during ’ibaadah since.