When Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses came out in 1989, Viking Penguin, the British and American publisher of the novel, was subjected to daily Islamist harassment. As Daniel Pipes wrote, the London office resembled “an armed camp,” with police protection, metal detectors and escorts for visitors. In Viking’s New York offices, dogs sniffed packages and the place was designated a “sensitive location”. Many bookshops were attacked and many even refused to sell the book. Viking spent about $3 million on security measures in 1989, the fatal year for Western freedom of expression.
Nonetheless, Viking never flinched. It was a miracle that the novel finally came out. Other publishers, however, faltered. Since then, the situation has only gotten worse. Most Western publishers are now faltering. That is the meaning of the new Hamed Abdel-Samad affair.
The Muslim Brotherhood gave Abdel-Samad all that an Egyptian boy could wish for: spirituality, camaraderie, companionship, a purpose. In Giza, Hamed Samad became part of the Brotherhood. His father had taught him the Koran; the Brotherhood explained him how to translate these teachings into practice.
Abdel-Samad repudiated them after one day in the desert. The Brothers had given all the new militants an orange after they had walked under the sun for hours. They were ordered to peel it. Then the Brotherhood asked them to bury the fruit in the sand, and to eat the peel. The next day, Abdel-Samad left the organization. It was the humiliation needed to turn a human being into a terrorist.
Abdel-Samad today is 46 years old and lives in Munich, Germany, where he married a Danish girl and works for the Institute of Jewish History and Culture at the University of Munich. In his native Egyptian village, his first book caused an uproar. Some Muslims wanted to burn it.
Abdel-Samad’s recent book, Der Islamische Faschismus: Eine Analyse, has just been burned at the stake not in Cairo by Islamists, but in France by some of the self-righteous French.
The book is a bestseller in Germany, where it has been published by the well-known publisher, Droemer Knaur. An English translation has been published in the U.S. by Prometheus Books, under the title Islamic Fascism. Two years ago, the French publisher, Piranha, acquired the rights to translate Abdel-Samad’s book about “Islamic Fascism” into French. A publication date was even posted on Amazon: September 16. But at the last moment, the publisher stopped its release. Jean-Marc Loubet, head of the publishing house, announced to Abdel-Samad’s agent that the publication of his book is now unthinkable in France, not only for security reasons, but also because it would reinforce the “extreme right”.
For criticizing Islam, Abdel-Samad lives under police protection in Germany and, as with Rushdie, a fatwa hangs over him. After the fatwa come the insults: being censored by a free publishing house. This is what the Soviets did to destroy writers: destroy his books.
Mr. Abdel-Samad’s case is not new. At a time when dozens of novelists, journalists and scholars are facing Islamists’ threats, it is unforgivable that Western publishers not only agree to bow down, but are often the first to capitulate.
For criticizing Islam, Hamed Abdel-Samad lives under police protection in Germany and, as with Rushdie, a fatwahangs over him. After the fatwa come the insults: being censored by a free publishing house.
Before he suddenly became “unpopular” in the Paris’s literary establishment, Renaud Camus had been friends with Louis Aragon, the famous Communist poet and founder of surrealism, and was close joining “the immortals” of the French Academy. Roland Barthes, the star of the Collège de France, had written the preface to Renaud Camus’ most famous novel, Tricks, the cult-classic book of gay culture.
Then a Paris court convicted Camus for “Islamophobia” (a fine of 4,000 euros), for a speech he gave on December 18, 2010, in which he spoke of “Grand Remplacement“, the replacement of the French people under the Trojan horse of multiculturalism. It was then that Camus became persona non grata in France.
The Jewel of Medina, a novel by the American writer Sherry Jones about the life of the third wife of Muhammad, was first purchased and then scrapped by the powerful publisher Random House, which had already paid her an advance and launched an ambitious promotional campaign. Sherry Jones’s new publisher, Gibson Square, was then firebombed by Islamists in London.
Then there was Yale University Press, which published a book by Jytte Klausen, “The Cartoons That Shook the World“, on the history of the controversial “Mohammad cartoons” that were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, and crisis that followed. But Yale University Press published the book without the cartoons, and without any other images of the Muslim prophet Mohammad that were to be included.
“The capitulation of Yale University Press to threats that hadn’t even been made yet is the latest and perhaps the worst episode in the steady surrender to religious extremism — particularly Muslim religious extremism — that is spreading across our culture,” commented the late Christopher Hitchens. Yale was possibly hoping to get in line for the same $20 million donation from Saudi Arabia’s Prince Al-Wwaleed bin Talal that he had just bestowed upon George Washington University and Harvard.
In Germany, Gabriele Brinkmann, a popular novelist, was also suddenly left without a publisher. According to her publisher, Droste, the novel Wem Ehre Geburt (“To Whom Honor Gives Birth“) could be judged as “insulting to Muslims” and expose the publisher to intimidation. Brinkmann was asked to censor some passages; she refused and lost the publishing house.
This same cowardice and capitulation now pervades the entire publishing industry. Last year, Italy’s most prestigious book fair in Turin chose (then shelved) Saudi Arabia as its guest of honor, despite the many writers and bloggers who are imprisoned in the Islamic kingdom. Raif Badawiwas sentenced to 1,000 lashes and a 10-year sentence, and a $260,000 fine.
Many Western publishers are now also “rejecting works by Israeli authors“, according Time.com, despite their political views.
It was after Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses that many Western publishing houses first bowed to intimidation. Christian Bourgois, a French publishing house, refused to publish The Satanic Verses after having bought the rights, as did the German publisher, Kiepenheuer, who apparently said he regretted having acquired the rights to the book and chose to sell them to a consortium of fifty publishers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, gathered under the name “UN-Charta Artikel 19.”
Not only did Rushdie’s publishers capitulate; other publishers also decided to break ranks and return to do business with Tehran. Oxford University Press decided to take part in the Tehran Book Fair, along with two American publishers, McGraw-Hill and John Wiley, despite the request of Rushdie’s publisher, Viking Penguin, to boycott the Iranian event. Those publishers chose to respond to murderous censorship with surrender, willing to sacrifice freedom of expression on the altar of business as usual: selling books was more important than solidarity with threatened colleagues.
It is as if at the time of the Nazis’ book-burnings, Western publishers had not only stood silent, but had also invited a German delegation to Paris and New York. Is it so unimaginable today?
Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.