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Culture of fear?

Gibson Square, the publisher due to release Sherry Jone's debut novel, The Jewel of Medina, about Aisha, one of the prophet Mohammed's wives, has delayed publication, and may not publish at all. Sherry Jones, the author, who lives in Washington State, USA, has said that 'we' mustn't give into fear and be prepared to defend the principle of free speech. American publication of the book has been rushed forward to this coming Monday, which Jones says will finally give people the chance to judge the book for themselves and see that it isn't, as academic Denise Spellberg, to whom it was sent for a cover blurb or encomium claims, pornographic. It was Spellberg's comments that seem to have sparked the furore. But why those responsible for the firebomb threats are so reliant upon hearsay certainly speaks volumes about the levels of intelligence involved. Sherry Jones is in an unenviable position but is confident that Spellberg's comments will finally be judged as being over the top once the book is released. Let's hope so. But is Jones right, are we living in a culture of fear? But then aren't we always living in fear? There's always some group that will claim outrage, or feign it for political purposes. In this case, as in the days of The Satanic Verses, it was deemed offensive to Islam. Being both atheist and a recovering Catholic I cannot judge on whether it offends or not - I have so far failed to even get a third of the way through any of Rushdie's novels so hats off to those Muslims who read far enough to feel the outrage they claimed it contained! But free speech? Have we ever had it? Isn't it always something we are all, at different times, fighting for? And, aren't there those authors who choose a subject purely because it promises to be so explosive?

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