Publishers and the Fear of Muslim Fundamentalists

Ever since the infamous fatwa descended on Rushdie in February 1989, most publishers in the West have carefully avoided books that might even remotely be critical of Islam. Books heaping abuse on Christianity are perfectly acceptable, but "hands off Islam" seems to have been their guiding principle. Though often disguised as some higher moral principle, the real reason for avoiding books on Islam is fear.

The only alternative to shunning books on Islam altogether is to have them carefully scrutinized by experts or even Muslims themselves, and to remove offending passages — self-censorship, in short. In May 1997, after complaints from a Muslim organization, Simon and Schuster recalled more than 4000 copies of a children’s book that portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a perfume-loving, sword-wielding dictator who despised Jews and Christians and took pleasure in chopping off the heads of those who displeased him (all true, incidentally).

Now we have the case of Mr. Paul Fregosi, the author of Jihad in the West, a history of Islamic Holy War in Europe from the 7th to the 20th centuries. According to Mr. Fregosi, the publisher Little, Brown who commissioned his book is too frightened of Islamic fundamentalists to publish it. It seems the manuscript of Fregosi’s book was carefully examined by a minor British academic who has converted to Islam, and was found insulting to his newly adopted religion. Whereupon, Little, Brown cancelled its publication.

Mr. Fregosi, who has already written a well-received book on the Napoleonic Wars, lays the blame for the violence in countries like Algeria, where more than 80,000 men, women and children have been massacred, on the Prophet Muhammad himself. Paul Fregosi now intends to sue Little, Brown for breach of contract. The publishers are simply afraid of Islamic fundamentalists, says Fregosi. But Mr. Richard Beswick who commissioned the book for Little, Brown insists the controversial book is unpublishable because it is not good enough, not because they are afraid of Muslims.

The only publisher in the world that dares publish books critical of Islam is Prometheus Books, based in New York State. Prometheus Books are publishing Fregosi's Jihad in the West, which will be available in the Fall of 1998.

Reported by Ibn Warraq