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Wednesday, 20 August 2008

My second entry on the subject: Serbia stops sales of The Jewel in the Medina

by Suzan Abrams

Reuters reports that Serbia - the only country which sold the controversial Jewel in the Medina written by journalist Sherry Jones and published by Random House US, has withdrawn the book from stores in its country, with immediate effect.

Serbia was the only country in the world to have sold the debut novel in the first place. It had placed several hundreds of copies in its stores on August 1, a week before Random House cancelled associations with the title that spoke of the Prophet Mohammed's wedding to 11-year old A'isha. The story traces the couple's engagement right up to Mohammed's life and describes in intimate detail, private relations between the two.

The US launch was August 12, was swiftly cancelled.

It appears that a fortnight after the book had appeared in Serbian bookstores, the Islamic community had already demanded a ban to sales. Many Muslims had considered the text offensive.

Serbia has a 550,000-strong Muslim community, with the majority on the border region near Bosnia and Montenegro.

Alexandar Jasic, who is director of Serbian publisher Beobook, tells Reuters that there is always a market for historical fiction in Serbia and that he didn't think the story to be an insult to anyone.

But Imam Jusufspahic, the second highest ranking cleric in Serbia thinks otherwise. "The insults of religious feelings led to wars in this region," he says. "If we had been able to avoid them before we would have had fewer wars."

This writer feels that the Imam was sensibly, considering a wider scope of things. Having been born in a Muslim country herself, she agrees with the Imam. While she sees Muslim teachings as ancient, priceless and often, wise; it is not from the entreaties of all common sense - a religion that allows for democratic thought or liberal discourses. She feels this faith's privacy should be respected. The high risk at the moment stays that this particular work of fiction, could so easily fall prey to the hands of extremists, especially with all the controversy the book had already generated last May; months before its publication.

On reflecting over the last few decades, we don't need unnecessary deaths and wars. Random House should have known better even while vetting the book proposal. In confronting a harsh reality at the last minute and bravely cancelling publication, the American publisher showed tremendous courage. Anything on the Prophet Mohammed and it's best not to go there, this writer feels. Sherry Jones should not have provoked her hoped-for fame at the expense of troubling controversies, clearly smouldering on the horizon.

And reading what Salman Rushdie has had to say on the matter, it is obvious that he still has not learnt any valuable lessons from the fatwa. Two Japanese translators died at the expense of his predicament and a Norwegian publisher was almost killed. We don't need any more of that. Jones is selfish if she can't see this simple dangerous truth. - suzan abrams

Here, an earlier entry:

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