Controversy sells, so why am I complaining?

Dear Reader,

I was thrilled to learn that I had a national TV reporter interested in interviewing me. But when I went to the Seattle, WA, FOX News studio yesterday, I wasn’t so pleased to be facing questions, again, about the controversy around “The Jewel of Medina.

As a long-time journalist, I know reporters want conflict, scandal, opposition. Yet there’s plenty of potential for that within the pages of my book: A’isha’s age at marriage, for instance (more about this in my next post); the treatment of Jews by Muhammad and his followers (it WAS a tribal-warfare society, remember!); Islamic women’s rights under Muhammad vs. today; Islam as a religion of peace vs. today, etc.

I felt chagrined, therefore, to be asked questions about the Random House decision to “indefinitely postpone” publication of my book, and about Professor Denise Spellberg’s warning that “The Jewel of Medina” would, if published, incite terrorist attacks against the publishing house.

What so many journalists don’t seem to understand is this: This is not a Random House issue, per se. The company’s executives censored themselves based on fear, but they’re not the first or the most recent in this country to do so. “This is a cultural issue,” I told the reporter.

We’ve been living in a culture of fear since Sept. 11, 2001. We need to examine those fears and the prejudices behind them. Such as the notion that “an offended Muslim is a violent Muslim.” (Not true!) Or the sentiment that holds all Muslims to account for the terrorist actions of a radical few.

I began my research in an attempt to discover if these attitudes, so easily and frequently encountered in the U.S. and beyond, were justified. I concluded that they are not. “The Jewel of Medina,” besides telling a great story so little known in the West, is my attempt to convey the surprises I found in my research to everyone who reads it. By doing so, I hope my book will increase understanding of Islam and of those who practice it.

Understanding brings empathy. Empathy leads to peace.

I’m not naive. I know that there are people on all sides of the debate who’d stop at nothing to force their beliefs on the rest of us. But they are the minority. The rest of us have to stand up for decency — not only for freedom of expression, which we do hold so dear in this country, but also for courage, and, most of all, for compassion. Remember: God is love.

Keep reading,