Friday, May 22, 2009

Sherry Jones: "We must speak out for free speech"

I have taken the above title from a piece dated 19 May which can be accessed through the homepage of the Index on Censorship website – subtitled: “Why are UK distributors refusing to handle The Jewel of Medina? It’s time to raise an outcry says its author”. (As I stated in Tuesday’s blog “Free Speech Watch: Gagging in Britain” – the title taken from a recent Center for Inquiry blog entry – we are now emailing writers associated to the Index on Censorship, Reporters Without Borders, and others, on the hacking and on-going vandalisation of the NAC website (see blog of 9 May “SiteGround confirms our website has been hacked”); only last night the “Links” page carried a “Reported Attack Site!” notification, which got removed once I reposted the page.)

The Guardian also carried a story two days ago, titled “Muhammad child bride novel author condemns UK ‘censorship’”, which says that Sherry Jones, the author of The Jewel of Medina, has accused British publishers of being too afraid to publish her book in the wake of a firebomb attack on the office of Gibson Square, the London-based publisher which had been set to release it last year.

Her novel was initially acquired for a six-figure advance by Random House US, but dropped by the publisher last summer after it was warned that the book’s subject matter “might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment”. It was later acquired and published in America by small US publisher Beaufort Books. Gibson Square bought UK rights, but dropped the book following an arson attack on the home and office of its publisher Martin Rynja. Last week three men were found guilty of conspiracy to recklessly damage property and endanger life.

Jones has now revealed on her blog that despite attempts to find a new UK distributor for The Jewel of Medina, “everyone, it seems, is too afraid”. “Although the extremists lost in court, they have apparently won where it really counts – in the UK’s book stores,” she wrote. “The ‘thugs’ have accomplished their task – and freedom of speech, the first freedom to go when fascism gets a foothold, has taken a blow in the western world.”

She called on “the people of Great Britain” to “speak out against those who are limiting their right to read, think, speak, listen, debate, discuss, criticize”. “I hope the people of the UK can find the power, and the courage, to raise an outcry against censorship,” she said. “Now it’s time for the rest of us, including moderate Muslims and the press, who cherish our culture and our freedom, to raise a cry louder than that of radicals, so we don’t lose that most precious, and crucial, of freedoms.”

Across the road from our local council’s Idea Store Whitechapel – the borough’s flagship library, learning and information service where I spend most of my day – is the huge East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre. According to research seen by The Times, books calling for the beheading of lapsed Muslims, ordering women to remain indoors and forbidding interfaith marriage are being sold inside some of Britain’s leading mosques; one book, Fatawa Islamiyah, which urges the execution of apostates, was found in a bookshop at the mosque in Whitechapel.

Which reminds me that we frequently run into difficulties in Idea Store Whitechapel: only last week I was bullied by two security guards into vacating the computer I had booked the previous day, which I refused to do (see blog of 13 May “Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council”); a supervisor subsequently agreed that I would be able to have my bookings confirmed in writing by a member of staff, as Declan confirmed in an email of 13 May to the manager of Idea Store Whitechapel, Asab Ali, but this week a member of staff has still to agree to do so. For the record, this is Declan’s email yesterday evening to Ali, the fourth such email this week (all four emails have been copied to Heather Bonfield, Head of Cultural Services, Tower Hamlets Council):

Subject: Idea Store Whitechapel

Dear Mr. Ali,

I refer further to my email of 13 May (attached) and wish to confirm my wife's bookings* for tomorrow on computer 1.16 as follows:

D000355837 (Declan Heavey)
11.45 - 12.45
13.45 - 14.45
14.45 - 15.45

D000350314 (Maria Heavey)
12.45 - 13.45
15.45 - 16.45
16.45 - 17.45

*Bookings checked by a member of staff, but a confirmation signature, printed name, initials or mark of any description refused by the same member of staff.

Yours sincerely,
Declan Heavey

cc Ms. Heather Bonfield, Head of Cultural Services

Also last week, the then out-going leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, said in a BBC Radio interview with Roger Bolton that atheists are “not fully human”. Philosopher Stephen Law, editor of the British Royal Institute of Philosophy journal THINK, comments: “[I]t is also worth just drawing attention to the fact that going round saying that those with whom one most profoundly disagrees are ‘not fully human’ is an extraordinarily insulting and dangerous thing to say, whether true or not”. Law also asks: “And does he consider my not-fully-human existence worth less than that of a fully-human religious person?” Well, the fact that Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor considers Declan and I “not-fully-human” might go some way to explaining why we have been kept to the street for over two and a half years, after being put there in November 2006 (see “About us”).