Controversy Over Novel About Muhammad’s Bride Continues

U.S. publishing company Random House will not publish a planned novel by Sherry Jones, called “The Jewel of Medina,” that was expected to hit stores on August 12th. The Islamically-themed novel explores Aisha, the child bride of the prophet Muhammad, who overcame a number of obstacles to reach her potential as a revered woman and leader in Islam. Random House said that it has been advised that the fictional novel, might be offensive to some Muslims, and “could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.” “The Jewel of Medina” traces the life of Aisha, who is often cited to have been Muhammad’s favorite wife, and is believed to have been engaged to the prophet from the age of six. Muslim writer and feminist Asra Nomani published a column in the Wall Street Journal, saying that she was “saddened” by the book’s scrapping, saying that the move is “a window into how quickly fear stunts intelligent discourse about the Muslim world.” Others, including Denise Spellberg, a professor from the University of Texas in Austin, said that the book was “ugly,” “stupid,” and was “soft core pornography.” The decision to indefinitely delay the novel’s release was made in consideration for the safety of the author, employees of the publisher, booksellers, and others involved in the distribution or sale of the novel.

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Sir Salman Rushdie wages questions over new book – libel, or freedom of expression?

Salman Rushdie is threatening to sue publisher John Blake Publishing Ltd. over a book by a former bodyguard that he says portrays him as mean, nasty, tight-fisted, arrogant, and extremely unpleasant. Rushdie’s lawyer Mark Stephens wrote a letter to the publisher, demanding that the book – called On Her Majesty’s Service – be withdrawn from publication. Rushdie has been accused of trying to stop freedom expression, which would be a curious move contrary to what he has long advocated. However, Rushdie has asserted that he is not trying to prevent his former bodyguard – Ron Evens – from publishing the book, but that if the publication goes as planned, there will be consequences and there will be a libel action, citing a difference between free-speech and libel.

Yusuf Islam accepts libel award

Yusuf Islam, the singer-songwriter formerly known as Cat Stevens, accepted substantial libel damages and an apology for articles that claimed he was sexist and bigoted, lawyers said. London’s High Court was told the World Entertainment News Network news agency and an entertainment web site, contactmusic.com, agreed to pay “substantial damages” for allegations made about him at an awards ceremony in Germany. The articles, published in March last year, falsely claimed he had refused to speak to or even acknowledge any women who were not veiled and was not prepared to speak to women other than through an intermediary, Islam’s lawyer said. Adam Tudor said his client was caused “considerable embarrassment and distress” at the allegations, which had created an “utterly false impression of his attitude to women” and cast aspersions on his faith. “In fact, Mr Islam has never had any difficulties working with women, whether for religious or for any other reasons. Women feature among some of the most influential people in his professional team,” he added.

“All of the damages secured by Mr Islam will be paid to his charity, Small Kindness. The defendants have also agreed to pay Mr Islam’s legal costs.” A spokeswoman for law firm Carter-Ruck told AFP that no details of the exact award would be made public.

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Probe into Threats Over Cable Pornography Visible in North Africa

Anti-terrorism investigators in Paris are examining threats against a leading French cable TV channel over pornographic films that can be viewed in North Africa. Canal-Plus, the pay-TV channel, received letters from people claiming to be Muslim and threatening to blow up its headquarters if it continues to broadcast a once-a-month pornographic film Saturday evenings. The threats began in September 2006.

Canal-Plus shows a range of programming, much of it family-friendly. As a new broadcaster in 1983, Canal-Plus introduced X-rated films on the first Saturday of the month to distinguish itself from other channels. It can be viewed via satellite in North Africa, where French is widely spoken but where social standards are vastly more conservative than in France. In the past, French regulators and other critics have also expressed concern about the films, citing the degradation of women and their encouragement of unprotected sex.

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Judge allows Muslim woman’s life story book

A book by a 30 year old Muslim woman named Karima may be told and sold according to a decision by a judge in Verviers. The parents and sisters of the women took legal action to prevent the book from being sold, afraid that it would infringe on their privacy. In the book, Karima tells of how she turned away from her family, alleging beatings from them, humiliation, and a forced marriage in the name of religion. The judge’s ruling was based on the right for Karima to tell a life story, and there was no justification for deleting passages that her family wanted to delete, citing the importance of freedom of expression.

Dutch anti-Muslim film brings call for PR

Feared fallout from a new film critical of Islam has one Dutch lawmaker calling for a pre-emptive public-relations campaign by all of Europe. Alexander Pechtold, a member of the Netherlands parliament, said Monday that Europe must publicly explain the values of freedom of expression and democracy in order to prevent a backlash to the film produced by right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders. Here we are accustomed to democracy and freedom of expression but not everyone abroad is, Pechtold told Radio Netherlands.

Iran, Netherlands at odds over movie

Dutch and Iranian officials are split over whether to intercede in the release of a controversial new movie. Iranian officials have accused the unidentified film of portraying the holy Muslim text as an inspiration for killing, but Dutch counterparts have not taken action against Dutch parliament member responsible for the film’s creation. Iranian officials have also directly asked the Netherlands to ban the film. Concerning the freedom of expression, Iranian justice minister Gholam-Hossein Elham said: we must respect freedom of expression, but the insulting of sacredness and ethical values under threat pretext is totally unacceptable. Geert Wilders created the film, but has been warned that he may be forced to flee if reactions worsen.

Denmark: Denmark Seeks To Rebuild Relations With Islam

WASHINGTON — Denmark is determined to rebuild ties to its own Muslim population and to the greater Islamic world — and may look to the United States as a model, Danish Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen said yesterday. Denmark found itself at the center of a global firestorm after a local newspaper last fall printed a series of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. After other European newspapers reprinted the cartoons, angry demonstrations — some violent — erupted across the Islamic world — and several Danish diplomatic posts and businesses were targeted in the outburst. “I think we can learn from the United States, on matters such as integration and assimilation of our minority communities,” Mr. Petersen told a forum sponsored by the Pakistan chapter of the Universal Peace Foundation and the Ambassadors for Peace Foundation held at The Washington Times. “I think we in Denmark and in Europe generally have to become more aware of religious sensibilities. We are interested in building bridges, not burning them,” he said. The government of center-right Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has turned aside demands from some Muslim leaders for an official apology for the cartoons, saying freedom of expression and a free press are bulwarks of Danish democracy. But Mr. Petersen said Danish officials also have looked for ways to use the crisis to improve relations with the country’s Muslim minority and with Islamic states. A major conference Friday in Copenhagen brought together Muslim and Christian scholars, many of whom urged the West and Islam to come together to foster understanding and rebuild ties damaged in the cartoon controversy. At yesterday’s forum, Mr. Petersen said moderates on both sides of the global debate had to “transcend” the temptation to paint the cartoon uproar as a stark choice between pure freedom of expression and respect for religion. “Democracy is the basis of the discussion, but for us Danes, the dialogue must be based on mutual respect,” he said. “There can never be any doubt about that.” The diplomat said Danes traditionally have enjoyed frank debate, questioning authority and a reputation for tolerance, but conceded that his small country was still reeling from the fact that it was at the center of a worldwide controversy. “We Danes tend to see our country as a role model,” he said. “We never could have imagined that we would see Danish embassies burning. “We never wanted this; we never asked for it,” he added. “Some Danes do not understand the reaction, and so we get worried, we get disturbed, we get overwhelmed.” Mr. Petersen said most Muslims in Denmark are being accepted into society, although some still resist learning the language and accepting all of the country’s traditional political values. He said countries across Europe are increasingly working with religious leaders, scholars, private groups and other governments on how best to accommodate sizable Muslim populations now in Europe. He said many on the continent are looking to the American model for ideas. “Look at any European country today, and I would say they have not been as successful as the United States in this matter,” he said.

Europe Struggles To Balance Free Speech, Limits On Expression

By C_sar G. Soriano LONDON – Outspoken London Mayor Ken Livingstone may not be reporting for work Wednesday at the city’s egg-shaped town hall on the banks of the River Thames. Unless he appeals successfully, he will sit at home, serving a four-week suspension for comparing a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. The mayor – a veteran of many foot-in-mouth controversies – had argued he was exercising his freedom of speech. The Adjudication Panel for England ruled against him Friday and found the mayor guilty of bringing his office into “disrepute.” Livingstone has refused to apologize. The suspension “strikes at the heart of democracy,” he said. Newspapers from several countries have asserted a right to free expression – and inflamed Muslims worldwide – by publishing Danish cartoons that depict the prophet Mohammed. At the same time, European courts, lawmakers and religious groups are pressing for limits on expression. In recent speech cases: _An Austrian court last week sentenced British historian David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust in a 1989 speech. Prosecutors are asking the court to lengthen Irving’s sentence. Ten European countries, along with Israel, have laws against denying the massacre of Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II. _A German court on Thursday convicted a 61-year-old businessman of insulting Islam by selling toilet paper printed with the word “Quran,” the name of Islam’s holy book. The man, identified in court papers only as Manfred van H., also referred to the Quran as a “cookbook for terrorists.” _Britain’s House of Commons on Feb. 15 approved a ban on speech and writing that glorifies terrorism. _Nick Griffin, leader of the right-wing British National Party, was acquitted Feb. 2 on charges of using hate speech for describing Islam as a “vicious, wicked faith” and comparing immigrants to cockroaches. _British lawmakers on Feb. 1 rejected Prime Minister Tony Blair’s proposed law against insulting religions. Among the critics of the bill was comic actor Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr. Bean on TV and in movies. He argued that the bill would have curtailed the work of entertainers. _A British tour of the hit musical Jerry Springer – The Opera was delayed for a year and has suffered poor ticket sales, producers say. A religious group, Christian Voice, has organized protests against the tour. Christian Voice says the play is blasphemous and an insult to Christians because it contains foul language and depicts Christ as a guest on a daytime TV show. Europe’s view of freedom of expression is “less absolute” than the view in the USA, where First Amendment speech guarantees are broad, says Daniel Simons, legal officer for Article 19, a London-based human rights group that defends freedom of expression around the world. “Americans are more distrustful of the government and concerned about government limitations on freedom of speech,” Simons said. “Europeans feel freedom of expression is one value, but respect the legitimate need to protect the feelings of other people. I suppose the experience of World War II has led people to be more concerned about racism.” In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, Agnes Callamard, executive director of Article 19, said free speech guarantees put the United States at one extreme and governments that practice censorship at the other. Europe is in the middle, she said. In most European countries, the state “attempts to strike a balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to equality, and therefore freedom from discrimination,” Callamard said. Many of the objections to “anything goes” free speech have been raised by religious groups. “With freedom of speech comes responsibility. And one has to be sensitive to the people within a society, so there are limits to what can be said,” said Jon Benjamin of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the group that brought the complaint against Livingstone. Even Amnesty International, a longtime advocate of freedom of expression, has called for laws that prohibit “hate speech” following the Danish cartoon flap. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the London-based National Secular Society, says he is worried about the chilling effect of limiting speech, especially when it is the result of pressure from religious groups. Wood’s group has lobbied against government restrictions on speech. “Most of the objections are coming from Islam,” he said. “It’s a very worrying development because the freedom of speech is an enlightenment value that Europe must cling to. In the end, it’s the best defense against religious extremism and (best way) to resolve questions in a peaceful way.”

Muslims Must Abide By Uk Code, Says Cre Chief

MUSLIMS living in the UK must accept that British values include a commitment to freedom of speech, even if that means offending people, says the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality. Speaking in the wake of worldwide demonstrations against cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad, Sir Trevor Phillips said that the right to offend was an “absolutely precious” part of British identity, which could not be bargained away. And he suggested that any Muslims who want to live under a system of Shariah law should leave the country. However, Sir Trevor – who has recently sparked controversy with his attacks on multiculturalism and calls on ethnic minorities to integrate – said that the other side of the coin of freedom of speech was that non-Muslims must accept the right of imams to denounce homosexuality in a way that many people find offensive. Sir Trevor told ITV1’s Jonathan Dimbleby programme that he wanted to promote a sense of “Britishness” among all those living in the UK. “What some minorities have to accept is that there are certain central things we all agree about, which are about the way we treat each other – that we have an attachment to democracy, that we sort things out by voting, not by violence and intimidation, that we tolerate things that we don’t like,” he said. “Short of people menacing and threatening each other, we have freedom of expression. We allow people to offend each other.” And that commitment to freedom of expression should also allow Muslim preachers to make comments about homosexuality that are offensive to broad segments of the British population, he said. “One point of Britishness is that people can say what they like about the way we should live, however absurd, however unpopular it is,” said Sir Trevor. “That’s why I believe that freedom of expression – including Muslim leaders’ right to say they think homosexuality is harmful – is absolutely precious. In the end, once we start to limit freedom of expression, the people who suffer most are minorities.” Sir Trevor rejected the idea that British Muslims should be allowed to live under Shariah law in their own communities. “I don’t think that’s conceivable,” he said. “We have one set of laws. They are decided on by one group of people, members of parliament, and that’s the end of the story. Anybody who lives here has to accept that’s the way we do it. If you want to have laws decided in another way, you have to live somewhere else.”