Freedom Of Speech: R.I.P

Well, it’s official. Britain can no longer claim to have freedom of speech. Of course, there have been several warning shots fired across the bow. Deafeningly loud ones, in fact.

The refusal of every single British newspaper to run the Danish cartoons, for one. And the shameful decision to ban Dutch MP Geert Wilders even entering the country, would be another. But it’s today that we observe a few minutes’ silence and – with nary a word of protest from the media – say: Freedom Of Speech: R.I.P.

For it is today that the repressive and malignant force that is Islam, finally prevailed in Britain, as British Muslims stop ‘The Jewel Of Medina‘ from being published. The novel, you will recall, is about Mohammed.

And, as usual, the ‘religion of peace’ employs violence to triumph over ‘infidels’. Specifically, firebombing the home of the publisher of the novel. This week, the three Muslims responsible for this murder attempt were sentenced in court – but my, they must be happy. After all, with every publisher and book outlet in the nation too terrified to release the book, a few years in prison is presumably a small price to pay to prevent us reading the unpalatable truth about their precious prophet.

For while the firebombing failed to kill anyone, it resulted in Gibson’s Square, the publishing house, announcing it is ‘indefinitely postponing’ the publication of The Jewel Of Medina.

Not content with that, British Muslims then ensured that no book retailer would stock foreign copies of the book. Their campaign included threatening Borders, the book chain.

The book’s author Sherry Jones writes on her blog:

As anyone who has read The Jewel of Medina knows, it does not insult Islam…Whether or not my book is respectful, however, has little to do with the real issue here. For, although the extremists lost in court, they have apparently won where it really counts – in the UK’s book stores.

After the Gibson Square’s publisher announced, a couple of weeks after the arson attempt, that he was indefinitely postponing publication of The Jewel of Medina – following in the footsteps of Random House in the U.S. – I awarded world English publication rights to Beaufort Books, my U.S. publishing house.

Beaufort publisher Eric Kampmann and associate publisher Margot Atwell headed to the London Book Fair in April with a full display of The Jewel of Medina and confidence that they would find the right distributor to supply stores in the U.K. with the book. But – no. Everyone, it seems, is too afraid.

Forget the fact that The Jewel of Medina has been published in seven countries, including Denmark, with no threats or repercussions of any kind. Well – OK. In Serbia a conservative mufti protested the book two days after its release last August and issued threats grave enough to cause my publisher there to withdraw it from publication. But that mufti hadn’t read The Jewel of Medina, because he merely repeated false rumors that the book contains ‘brutal acts of pornography’.

The people of Serbia spoke loudly and clearly against censorship. So did the press, and other groups including moderate Muslims. Beobook re-released the sold-out The Jewel of Medina one month after it discontinued publication, and it rocketed to the top of the country’s best-seller lists, where it remained for at least four months. It’s still selling so well that Aleksandar Jasic anticipates a fifth printing in June.

“What made the difference in Serbia? The memory of facist dictator Slobodan Milosevic apparently remains fresh in the public consciousness. Freedom of speech is the same as freedom: ‘We believe that this kind of censorship is very dangerous – the next step is that any crazy group in the world can threat to kill someone if the book/article/picture is published,’ an editor at the Serbian daily newspaper Blic said to me.

These three Muslim thugs who tried to torch the British people’s right to read a book would be easy to shrug off as isolated cases, as simple bullies. The fact is, though, that soon after that attack, Muslim groups in the UK exerted an organized effort to keep The Jewel of Medina out of British bookstores.

Luke Johnson, chariman of Borders UK, wrote in the Financial Times online that his company had received threats that it would ’suffer’ if Borders UK sold The Jewel of Medina:

Mr Johnson wrote: “’Surely, in a civilised society, we cannot allow thuggish behaviour to intimidate us. Otherwise we could all end up being tyrannised by violent and vocal minorities, cowed into submission in pursuit of a comfortable life. How then would humanity and invention progress?’

Sherry Jones concludes: “The implication is that, given the opportunity, Borders UK would, indeed, sell The Jewel of Medina. Unfortunately, it seems, they won’t have the chance in the near future. The ‘thugs’ have accomplished their task – and freedom of speech, the first freedom to go when fascism gets a foothold, has taken a blow in the western world.”

Here’s an idea: why don’t ALL British publishers release this novel? Why don’t all bookshops place this novel slapbang in the centre of their front windows? Why don’t we as a nation show once and for all that we will not be broken by Islam?

We are being given this final chance to show that we won’t be cowed. If we fail to avail ourselves of it, then we may as well turn and face Mecca right now.

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