When Does Caution Become Censorship?

After reading about author Sherry Jones' book being pulled from printing because of possible Muslim backlash, I have to wonder where the line for censorship begins.

According to "A Book too Hot off the Presses" (Washington Post, 8/21/08), the book was slated for the press until Random House
received "cautionary advice" that the fictionalized story of one of Muhammad's wives might "incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
Translated: a blurb-writer voiced her opinion (and sued to have her name removed from the book's bibliography). Random House then contacted a few more people, who apparently agreed. The book was pulled — though a Serbian printer published 1,000 copies before a mufti took offense at the material.

Publishing is a business, and every business reserves the right to refuse service. However, when does it become a bad idea to stop publication of a book? With riots erupting after perceived slights by Muslims following the publication of a Danish cartoons, some publishers — American publishers, in this case — will pull the plug.

Do you as a reader think that is right? Do you think it's fair to halt publication because a work "might incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment"? Is there any reason to halt publication?

Going even further: do you think some subjects are "off the table" for authors? Which ones would those be? And what would make them forbidden?

Postscript 8/27/08: Please read Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso's excellent Opinion piece in the Indianapolis Star ("Beware of Lifting Swords Over Words," 8/26/08) regarding this matter.

1 comment:

chayward said...

As far as subjects being "off the table", I've read three books this year that have dealt with brother-sister incest (let me say, for the record, "EW!"), so there doesn't appear to be much that is off limits in literature.

What you bring up is more an issue of self-censorship, stopping yourself before someone else does. I also think it is an issue of cowardice. And when people quietly give up their right to freedom of expression, we hand a victory to those who abhor our way of life. I think it's an appalling trend.