Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Serbia, Islam and The Jewel of Medina

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In our November/December issue, novelist Sherry Jones warned of the dangers of self-censorship, in light of her own experiences with her novels The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina. In the piece, she pointed to Serbia as an example of how to avoid the pitfalls of such censorship:
"In Serbia, where the memory of life under Slobodan Milosevic is still strong, people spoke out en masse against attempts by Muslim officials to stop publication of my books there. More than a year later, both The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina sit near the top of the Serbian bestseller list, and people live in confidence that their right to free speech is stronger than ever. Can we in the US and the UK say the same? Or can any thug with a can of petrol and a match – or the mere idea of such a thug – now dictate to us what we can and can’t read?"
This caught the eye of Simon Garnett, who edits the online magazine network Eurozine. He wrote us a response, in which he suggests that there could be more to the Serbian support for Jones' novels than a straightforward love of free expression. Here's a sample:
"While the memory of Milošević may indeed be strong in the minds of Serbians, the fact is that a thorough and mainstream reappraisal of Serbia's responsibility for war crimes, the largest single victim group of which was Muslim, has yet to take place. Were that book to be written, it would be unlikely to reach the top of the bestseller list. Instead, there exists a derivate and commercialised media agenda in which scandal sells. Just as Muamer Zukorlić [head of Serbia's Islamic Community] imitated the language of injured religious sensibilities ubiquitous since the Danish cartoon controversy, so the Serbian public imitated the western secular backlash. If the former was an exercise in fundamentalist PR, the latter was an exercise in ersatz politics in a country yet to address the real issues of its recent past."
I sent Garnett's piece to Jones, and she responded as follows:

"I wonder if Mr. Garnett has travelled to Serbia, as I did last September, and talked to people there about The Jewel of Medina, or with the journalists who covered the controversy, or with Aleksandar Jasic, my Serbian publisher? The situation regarding the withdrawal, then resumption of publication of my books in Serbia is much more complex than Mr Garnett indicates in this column.

He is entitled to his opinion, of course. If he is correct and the Serbian people need to come to terms with past wrongs toward Muslims, I am doubly encouraged by the strong sales of my books in that country. I have always envisioned The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina as bridge-builders between Muslim and non-Muslim cultures."

Obviously this is a matter that requires some knowledge of Serbian society and its politics, but since we've clearly sparked a debate between Jones and Garnett, we thought we'd throw it out to readers as well. If you have anything to add to the matter, please do so by commenting on this post.


Caroe said...

what an amateurish response, instead of actually confronting the arguments set against her she replies with, "yeah but I've been there and you haven't!" sloppy solipsism.