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