Caution! Book may be inflammable

May 26, 2009 at 11:04 am (Feminism, Free Speech, Islam, islamism, Rosie B, women)

 About a year ago I did a post on Verso’s refusal to publish Does God Hate Women? by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, a book about various religions’ attitude towards women.  Verso (mission statement:- “Books with a critical edge” ) brought Jeremy Stangroom in for a discussion.  They had no problems about any of the religions mentioned and their attitudes towards women except for Islam.  The reason?  Well, Verso has a soft spot for Islam, which, they think, is a buttress against American imperialism.  All part of the creepy regard some sections of the left have towards theocracy.  Let’s hope that the recent revelations about how theocracy works against the most helpless in society – Ireland in this instance – might get them to reconsider this peculiar stance.

The church and the state in cahoots
The children lie under their boots.

For entertainment the comments thread under that post is worth reading.  People are desperate to prove that Ophelia Benson is a liar rather than that a famous left-wing publisher should be such a craven clerical arse-licker.

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom found another publisher, Continuum.   Now a week before publication date Continuum are getting cold feet.   Read it over here:-

About this non-ecumenical book that Jeremy and I wrote, that is due out at the end of this week. Yes, what about it, you’re thinking, all agog. For reasons which I will explain another day, the publisher became nervous about it last Friday. The publisher phoned us on Friday, and talked of changes, or delays, or would we like to drop a chapters. We would not like to drop a chapter, and if we had liked to drop a chapter, the time to discuss that would have been several months ago, not now, a week before the book is supposed to appear. The publisher sent the can-we-drop-it chapter to an ecumenicist to get his opinion.

The publisher sent the chapter to an ecumenicist to get his opinion.

The ecumenicist will not like it. The ecumenicist will hate it. The ecumenicist specializes in Muslim-Christian relations. This book is not about Muslim-Christian relations, and it did not set out to improve Muslim-Christian relations, and it was not shaped in such a way as to improve Muslim-Christian relations. That means the ecumenicist is the wrong kind of person to be vetting our chapter.

It look like the publisher is doing what Random House did about the Jewel of Medina. They send the manuscript to someone to vet in case of offence to Islam, which they would not care much about except that they fear that some of the offended will turn violent. What Kenan Malik calls the “internalisation of censorship” comes into action.

Inayat Bungawala has said that when he was a lad in Bradford protesting about Rushdie’s Satanic Verses he thought that books should be read by a board of clerics before they were published.   He has since recanted from that opinion.  Nowadays publishers don’t send the books to clerics but to people who can do some second guessing about offensiveness and the effects on community cohesion etc, and more crudely, whether they could suffer the same kind of violence that murdered translators and distributors of The Satanic Verses and firebombed the publisher of The Jewel of Medina.

So books critical towards Islam will not be published.  Censorship by governments (Lady Chatterley, for instance) has been faced down in courts in this country.  We have censorship by our appalling libel laws.  We also have censorship by freelance censors with petrol bombs in their pockets.  The angry mini-cab driver becomes the publisher’s reader.

This will hid hardest not writers like Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, who view Islam from the outside, but those who write from within – the liberalisers, the reformers, the feminists, the novelists, the historians.  They will write and no-one will dare to publish them.

If you want to put some put pressure on Continuum to publish and damn all the offended, you could pre-order the book from Amazon.


  1. Jeremy Stangroom said,

    Thanks for your support Rosie. We can’t tell the full story yet, and indeed it is still being played out, but I suppose I should say that the book had already been through an extra layer of review and editing (which included Continuum’s CEO), we made changes as a result (some of which we were happy to make, some of which, less so), and that it has been printed, and it is currently sitting in a warehouse (where it seems at least possible it may remain!).

  2. asquith said,

    Preordered- proudly so. Let us hope for a worthy successor to Why Truth Matters.

  3. Ophelia Benson said,

    What Jeremy said – thanks, Rosie.

  4. Jeremy Stangroom said,

    Thanks Asquith.

    Just to update people: we had a positive talk with Continuum today, so we’re hopeful that the book will go forward as planned. We’ll keep you posted.

  5. maxdunbar said,

    That thread last year is one of the funniest in blogland.

  6. Jeremy Stangroom said,

    Yeah it was quite funny. There was a classic Resistor post where he gets confused about whether the book has been commissioned, and then Flying Rodent pops up, flies in ever decreasing circles before plummeting to the ground.

    Almost as good as teasing Louis Proyect – but not quite!

  7. maxdunbar said,

    In fact the thread should be stuffed and put in a time capsule as a warning from history.

  8. Ophelia Benson said,

    Mind you, there was a certain amount of ‘Why are you so fussed?’ today which is odd when Friday the talk was of changes or chapter-dropping or if all else fails not publishing at all. It’s not as if we learned anything different in the meantime, so why would we not be fussed? What should we be, pleased?

  9. Sue R said,

    Re-reading the previous thread made me quite nostalgic for johng. Has anyone heard anything from him lately? he seems to have gone quiet.

  10. Jeremy Stangroom said,

    As a coda to this, I thought that people might like to know that after reviews by an ecumenicist and a libel lawyer, Continuum have issued the instruction to release the book to bookshops.

    So assuming no acts of God, the book should be available very soon.

    Thanks again Rosie.

  11. maxdunbar said,


  12. Conrad Barwa said,

    So what did the ecumenist actualy say? I assume he either didn’t say it shouldn’t be published or was ignored by the publisher. Both of which means that one or the other was seriously misinterpreted in fears that the book shouldn’t be released.

    I don’t think anyone should be censored, especially when their aim to broaden critical thinking; but there is hardly a lack of critical books attacking Islamic thought and practises on treatment of women. My colleagues who work on this area have their bookshelves groaning with such works. So I do not get the idea that pervades this post, that somehow there is a mass censorship going on that prevents such literature from being published.

  13. Rosie said,


    I can’t link to the specific posts but you can read the 1 June entries here.

    The ecumenist gave the book a pass, but what is interesting is that the publisher got the ecumenist on board after an article in The Times by Christine Toomey suggested the book might cause controversy.

    It seems to be a case of The Times trying to cause controversy by suggesting a book might cause controversy.

    In The Times article Anjem Choudary is quoted about a touchy point of Islamic history, the age of Mohammad’s wife Aisha:-

    “Such assertions could invoke the ire of some Muslims. Anjem Choudary, a self-styled sharia judge and former leader of the banned British group Al-Muhajiroun, said: “Talk of Aisha as a child when she married is not true.”

    Anjem Choudary is not an Islamic scholar in the eyes of Islamic scholars. Getting him to talk on Islamic matters is like getting Fred Phelps to hold forth about Protestantism. You are going to get remarks like this with the threat of violence:-

    “It will lead to a huge backlash, as we saw with The Jewel of Medina.”

    In this instance the book will be published and let us hope that the controversy will be the normal one of reviewers lambasting it for its poor research, lack of sensitivity towards religious impulses or what have you, rather than fire-bombings.

    “So I do not get the idea that pervades this post, that somehow there is a mass censorship going on that prevents such literature from being published.”

    Ramin Gray, associate director of the Royal Court Theatre, recently admitted that he would be reluctant to stage a play that was critical of Islam. “You would think twice,” he said. “You’d have to take the play on its merits but given the time we’re in, it’s very hard because you’d worry that if you cause offence then the whole enterprise would become buried in a sea of controversy. It does make you tread carefully.”

    The Royal Court cancelled a new version of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata last year because the play is set in Muslim paradise. The Barbican cut out sections of Tamburlaine the Great for similar reasons, and in 2006 Berlin’s Deutsche Oper dropped a production of Mozart’s Idomeneo because it depicted Muhammad. In 2005 Tate Britain removed God is Great, John Latham’s sculpture featuring copies of a Bible, a Qur’an and a Talmud, because, according to a gallery statement, it was not “appropriate” in the sensitive post-7/7 climate. As Kenan Malik, author of the forthcoming book From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy, has written: “The fatwa has in effect become internalised”.

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