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
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, Mr. Samad left the organization. It was the humiliation needed to
turn a human being into a terrorist.
Abdel-Samad today is 46 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
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.
In France, for criticizing Islam in a column titled "We refuse to change civilization" for the daily newspaper, Le Monde, the famous writer, Renaud Camus, lost his publisher, Fayard.
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 Badawi was 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
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?