It's about Aisha, the little girl a chap called Mohammed took as his wife. I haven't read it – no one has, except the publishers and any others who have had access to the manuscript, proofs and/or advance copies – so can't comment on its accuracy or how well written it is.
But it's from an established historical novelist and journalist, Sherry Jones, who had already begun planning an eight-city book tour for her novel, The Jewel of Medina, having learned Arabic and studied scholarly works on Aisha's life in order to bring the character to life.
But Random House have pulled it. They feared it would be a new Satanic Verses. The Wall Street Journal tells us:
In an interview about Ms Jones's novel, Thomas Perry, deputy publisher at Random House Publishing Group, said that it "disturbs us that we feel we cannot publish it right now." He said that after sending out advance copies of the novel, the company received "from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment".
After consulting security experts and Islam scholars, Mr Perry said the company decided "to postpone publication for the safety of the author, employees of Random House, booksellers and anyone else who would be involved in distribution and sale of the novel".
So this is it, is it? For ever? We have to consult supersitious pillocks before anything can be published, if it so much as hints that it might have some mention of Islam and its hideous history and its frightful idelology? Are we supposed to quake in our boots, fear for our lives, our loves ones' lives, our employees' lives, our buildings, our streets lest some oversensititive Muslim gets it into his obsessed, Allah-soaked head that some kind of insult might perhaps be perceived by said same oversensitive Muslim and some of his fellows?
Is this our world now? We've seen it with the Mo cartoons and others; we've seen how Muslims here in the UK don't even like pictures of dogs on things, even though they are in a country that does like pictures of dogs on things, thank you very much!
Thankfully, not all Muslims feel the same way. Just the more vocal, it seems. And they always seem to be in a majority. Seem. Is that because others don't speak out enough? Or is it really the case that most Muslims are religion-soaked idiots? Tell me, somebody. I don't know. It just seems that way. And when do you see angry swathes of Muslims marching down a Western street crying, "Stop! Censorship is an outrage! You must allow free expression!"?
There's one at least. Not raving but frowning. For the writer of the Wall Street Journal piece, Asra Q Nomani, is a Muslim, and bemoans this situation:
This saga upsets me as a Muslim – and as a writer who believes that fiction can bring Islamic history to life in a uniquely captivating and humanizing way. "I'm devastated," Ms Jones told me after the book got spiked, adding, "I wanted to honor Aisha and all the wives of Muhammad by giving voice to them, remarkable women whose crucial roles in the shaping of Islam have so often been ignored – silenced – by historians." Last month, Ms Jones signed a termination agreement with Random House, so her literary agent could shop the book to other publishers.
But will other publishers take it, now that Random House has set the fireball rolling?
It wasn't a Muslim who instigated all this, however, but an American academic, Denise Spelling, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin and someone who is evidently an Islam apologist.
"In April, looking for endorsements," says the Wall Street Journal, "Random House sent galleys [early proofs] to writers and scholars, including Denise Spellberg [. . .]. Ms Jones put her on the list because she read Ms Spellberg's book, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: The Legacy of 'A'isha Bint Abi Bakr." The article goes on:
But Ms Spellberg wasn't a fan of Ms Jones's book. On April 30, Shahed Amanullah, a guest lecturer in Ms Spellberg's classes and the editor of a popular Muslim Web site, got a frantic call from her. "She was upset," Mr. Amanullah recalls. He says Ms Spellberg told him the novel "made fun of Muslims and their history," and asked him to warn Muslims.
In an interview, Ms Spellberg told me the novel is a "very ugly, stupid piece of work".
Other bloggers are also fired by this latest threat to our freedom of expression. MediaWatchWatch has a go at it, and so does Ophelia Benson in Butterflies and Wheels, with her accustomed weapons-grade ferocity. Benson concludes:
Denise Spellberg, self-appointed censor and destroyer of books: you should be embarrassed at yourself. You should go into a very different line of work, right away – you should not be allowed anywhere near students, and you should never get another book or article published.
Our fury is limited to the words we write and speak, and that is as it should be. The fury of the Muslim will be one of fists and fire and threats of decapitation and marching and moaning and whingeing and demanding.
What we have allowed into our world now is something very dark, very sinister, something that will, if we're not very careful, soon have us culturally hogtied, appealing – before we dare to publish a word – to some bloody fatwa committee of bearded, grizzled old men who wouldn't know a good piece of fiction if they ever reached far enough into the real world to take it down off the shelf.