Does fear conquer all?

Dear Reader,

“Aren’t you scared?” I get asked this question all the time, most recently in the wake of the news that three radical extremist Muslim men conspired to set fire to the home office of Gibson Square, the London publisher that had been set to publish “The Jewel of Medina” last October.

The full story of this attack is unnerving, to say the least. The driver of the getaway cab, Abbas Taj, is noted for dressing his baby girl in an “I Love al-Qaeda” hat, among other public displays of support for terrorism. According to the London Times, he waved banners at protests against the infamous “Danish cartoons” promising a 9/11 in Europe and calling for death to those who “insult Islam.”

For the full story, follow this link: Radical Muslims Found Guilty.

Taj’s two accomplices pleaded guilty last month to the so-called “firebombing,” and admitted that plans to publish “The Jewel of Medina” were the reason why.

The response to the attack in Britain was quite amazing. Apparently eager to give credibility to the most extreme of the extremists, some journalists contacted Anjem Choudary, a noted radical who predicted the “death penalty” for me and my publishers, apparently without reading my book.

As anyone who has read “The Jewel of Medina” knows, it does not insult Islam — a fact that enrages Islamophobes enough to have one radio talk-show host calling me a “wack job,” among other flattering names.

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 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 whose publisher and small staff have supported my book unwaveringly, despite hate mail, lawsuit threats, and Mr. Choudary’s own assertion that not only I, but my publishers, might deserve to die.

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.

Despite the efforts of extremist groups, “The Jewel of Medina” has not been banned in the UK. Nor should it be, in spite of the country’s crackdown on those seen as an insult to Islam. The book isn’t insulting. I had hoped it would be a bridge-builder between non-Muslims and Muslims — something it appears the UK could really use right now.

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, extremist 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.” Check it out at Financial Times.

“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?” Mr. Johnson wrote.

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.

Unless ….

Unless the people of Great Britain, and the press, follow Serbia’s lead and speak out against those who are limiting their right to read, think, speak, listen, debate, discuss, criticize and, yet, insult. After all, those who would stop free speech and expression for the rest of us certainly feel they have the right to make threats and to incite violence. It’s ironic that their voices, used to squelch dissent, are the ones being heard, and heeded, the most. I hope the people of the UK can find the power, and the courage, to raise an outcry against censorship.

“Use it, or lose it,” the saying goes. Extremists are using — abusing, even — their right to free speech. Now it’s time for the rest of us, including moderate Muslims and the press, who cherish our culture and our freedom, to raise a cry louder than that of radicals, so we don’t lose that most precious, and crucial, of freedoms.

Am I afraid? Sure, I’ve had some dark nights since the controversy erupted over my book. Getting hate mail and death threats and having nuts call for your assassination online is very unnerving. But then I shake it off. Some things are worse than death. And if we give in to intimidation and threats — to fear — we lose everything. So, as I’ve said before, I try to think not about how I’ll die, but about how I want to live: with courage, with love, and with a voice that speaks loudly, and clearly, for freedom.

9 replies on “Does fear conquer all?”

  1. Why don’t you make the book available for download online, free or not? That would allow you to circumvent bookstores and actually see if people are interested, if it would have sold well, so at least you would know if the actual readers are interested, and if the publishers and booksellers had any grounds other than fear to reject it. It seems like an obvious solution to me, especially as it would also be a sort of “In your face, suckers!” to the bad guys. Unless you’re scared, too? 😉

  2. Don’t worry Sherry, we’re speaking up for your rights here in the UK too (although we’ve got some MPs to deal with first). It might take a little while but we’ll see them off and you’ll have the right to publish freely without fear of reprisal.

  3. Yes, I do have faith in the British people! My ancestors, by the way, hailed from England. I do want to see my book available there, but most of all I want the British people to know what’s going on. Self-censorship is the most dangerous form of censorship because it is silent and so often hidden.

    Thank you for your support, J.P. and please thank those around you who support free speech, also.

    Have you registered on my website? If so, then you’ll get my newsletter telling the latest about “The Jewel of Medina” and “The Sword of Medina.”

  4. Dear Gabriele,

    Thank you for your suggestion! Unfortunately, I do not own the rights to “The Jewel of Medina.” Beaufort Books owns world English-language rights. They alone can decide whether to make the book available online. I believe you can buy it on

    In the States, “The Jewel of Medina” has sold quite well. And we’ve sold foreign-language rights to 19 other publishers. The book has hit best-seller lists in several countries: Serbia, Germany, and Spain, to name a few. So we know it will sell well in the UK — if we can find a distributor for it!

    The Guardian’s article today makes it sound as though we’re seeking a UK publisher. This is not the case. Beaufort is the publisher. What we need there is a distributor, someone to actually get the book into bookstores. But my publisher was told again and again by distributors that they are intimidated by Muslim extremists. I don’t blame them, given the situation in London today. Yet I worry about the future of our western civilization and culture if we allow fear to dictate what we can and cannot read.


  5. Dear Sherry,

    Thank you so much for your hard work and fearless determination.

    Please never give up and know that you are not alone in this ‘protective activity’.

    Idealists like you make people’s lives meaningful, don’t forget that.

    Thank you
    Jan Sobieski, East Sussex

  6. Hi Sherry

    I am British and I am glad distributors have decided not to publish the book….if you have said something offensive and the literature is inappropriate then why would we want that kind of rubbish here….it’s like writing a racist book and saying freedom of speech doesn’t matter if it’s offensive….your an inconsiderate women. I am so chuffed your book didn’t make it here

  7. I didn’t mean publish…what i meant is that i am glad distributors decided not to distribute that rubbish, i am sure they have more sense here to make wise decisions…and if you want to state that they didn’t distribute because they are scared then that’s your prerogative….but i am sure it because they have sense.

  8. Hi Natalie,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog. Have you read my book? Then how do you know if it’s offensive? Readers all over the world are enjoying “The Jewel of Medina.” I think you should be able to read it and decide for yourself, but distributors, who haven’t read it, either, have so far declined to put it in shops out of fear. My point is that we should all have the freedom to read whatever we like, even racist works, which my book is not. You have exercised your freedom of speech by writing on my blog, and aren’t you glad you have that right?

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