Mohammed, free speech, fundamentalists

A demonstration in Bangladesh against “The Jewel of Medina,” which had not yet been published. (photo by Reuters)

Having just returned from the Ubud Readers and Writers festival in Bali and met so many writers who have fought for the right to write, to say what they think or feel without the threat of imprisonment – or worse – this seems like a good time to talk about free speech.

I invited Sherry Jones to write a post about it. I am in awe of Sherry’s courage when faced with a torrent of abuse and even death threats over her book, The Jewel of Medina.

In all the debate about how to write well, one thing seems to me to get overlooked; yes, to write a good book we need to learn many things about the technical aspects of writing.

But sometimes it just takes real guts to write honestly what you believe and risk the ire of offending someone, be it family – or an entire religious group.

Here’s Sherry’s post:

 “Innocence of Muslims”: Who’s to Blame?

by Sherry Jones

I was shocked to hear otherwise reasonable people blame the makers of the “Innocence of sherry jones, Mohammed, free speechMuslims” video for the violent responses to it.

In fact, I’ve gotten downright defensive over it, which led to a contentious discussion with a (liberal) friend.

“It’s complex,” he said at last.

No, it isn’t.

No matter whether the violent protests in the Middle East and elsewhere – including the Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens — were: 1) genuine displays of anger about the video or 2) orchestrated by Islamist groups who are always on the lookout for an anti-America cause, the fact remains that the responsibility for violence rests solely on the heads of the perpetrators.

The wave of protests and violence over this video is exactly the kind of response that the original, almost-publishers of my novel THE JEWEL OF MEDINA  envisioned when they decided to “indefinitely postpone” its publication just three months before the scheduled debut date.

islamic fundamentaluists, Mohammed, free speech

One of the men who set fire to Gibson Square publisher Martin Rynja’s London home office.

The news that Random House had done so created a huge international controversy, which led to protests in Serbia and Bangladesh and some blaming me, the author, for reactions to the book. I even fell for this line of thinking — for about 30 seconds, after hearing that the home office of my (almost) British publisher had been set on fire just two weeks before the scheduled publication of JEWEL there.

What had I done? I anguished. My first impulse, yes, was to blame myself. Quickly, though, I regained my bearings. People choose how they’re going to respond to anything, drawing from a wide range of options from blogging to Tweeting to screaming to Molotov cocktails dropped into someone’s letter slot, to firing rockets at an ambassador’s car. The responsibility for those choices lie with those who react. Period.

sherry jones, jewel of medina, MohammedSalman Rushdie famously said that freedom of speech means having the freedom to offend. As I’ve said many times, the right to be able express oneself — no matter how repugnant some views might seem — is the very best thing about living in America. Insults and hurt feelings are the price we pay for that precious right.

The proper response, as President Obama said, is not violence, but more 9/11, Pentagon, islamic fundamentalistsspeech. Tweet all you want, post a rant on Facebook, blog to your heart’s content, even take to the streets in protest. But if you set fire on someone’s house or fire a rocket into someone’s car, you alone are to blame. It doesn’t get any less complex than that.

Sherry Jones is the author of FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS and the controversial THE JEWEL OF MEDINA and THE SWORD OF MEDINA, historical novels about A’isha bint Abi Bakr, the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad and the most famous and influential woman in the history of Islam.

Her website is at http://authorsherryjones.com. 

To see just how bad things got when her book was about to be published, see here.

Historical Fiction, Colin Falconer, HaremI’ll write more about the contentious subject of free speech on Friday. Meantime, I’ve just finished a brand new presentation for HAREM on a new medium called Slideshare. You can see it here.

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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  1. Sherry Jones says:

    I’m looking forward to reading HAREM, Colin!

  2. Deliberately Delicious says:

    I appreciate Sherry’s argument here, and agree that we are all entitled to our opinions. It’s really unfortunate that there are those who resort to violence in these situations. (Love Obama’s quote on this, by the way!)

    • This story goes to heart of the question of freedom of speech. I believe we will need to look very hard at this question in the face of hardline extremist views as they develop in the next years. I loved Obama’s quote too!

  3. violafury says:

    When any group, religion or organization seeks to repress dissent within, I find that outside criticism is not met with words, but heightened retaliation. I wonder why this is? I know of moderate Muslims who do not behave this way; indeed, one can make a case for extremists of any stripe using violence as a means to control populations and stifle outside opinion. I’ll have more to say on this later; I can hardly wait to read your next post on this subject. Thank you.

    • Thanks Viola, yes I don’t want this post – or the next one – to be seen as an attack on Islam in any way. What we are dealing with here is extremism and that is found in every religious and ethnic group. It’s a big issue, as we’ll see in the next post.

  4. raventracks says:

    Ah, yes, I have read this post. And the sad thing is, the book was written with the greatest respect for the subject and those who screamed the loudest had never read it. Well, none of them could have, as it wasn’t published! I agree that the only people o blame for violence are the perpetrators and I am frankly fed up with those who say,”Ah, well, I don’t condone it, but we have to understand why it happens…” knowing smugly it will never happen to them or anyone they care about.

  5. Powerful post. Thanks, Colin! Seems we’ve come a long way in regards to freedom of speech, yet have a long way to go.

  6. This is a wonderfully powerful post and so true. We are responsible for ourselves. Thanks for sharing. Def going to check out Sherry’s book.

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