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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Books, libraries, and the Muslim world

Kilbirnie, in Wellington, New Zealand, is a bustling multi-cultural community, made up of Pakeha (native New Zealanders of Caucasian stock), Maori, Pacific Islanders from islands ranging from Tonga and Samoa to the Cooks, and Asians from Indonesia, China, and India.

In a reflection of this, today the library is staging a fashion parade -- of Muslim dress. An interested crowd is expected -- of women only, of course. Hopefully there will be lots of books on the Muslim world on display, too.

It's ironic, I suppose, that this is also the day that the news breaks that Ballantine (an imprint of Random House) has cancelled Sherry Jones's novel The Jewel of Medina, which is about Muhammed's wife. Apparently, another Random House author, Denise Spellberg, who is an Islamic studies professor, was sent a pre-publication copy with a request to write a promotional blurb. Instead, she read it, hated it, and phoned a colleague asking him to warn Muslims about it.
Random House caved in, saying they had received "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."
I can't venture an opinion without reading the book, and it seems that I won't have that chance. Perhaps, though, it would be a good thing if the author, the professor, and the New York publishers came to Kilbirnie, Wellington, for a soothing dose of reality.

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