The Dutch publisher and the Rushdie effect

The Dutch publisher and the Rushdie effect

3rd October 2008, Comments 0 comments

In London, Dutch publisher Marin Rynja's answering machine is so full it can no longer record messages.

E-mails remain unanswered. Mr Rynja is the publisher of The Jewel of Medina by US author Sherry Jones. Because of this, police advised him to leave his upmarket London home on Friday. Hours later a Molotov cocktail was put through Mr Rynja's letterbox. Since then the publisher has gone into hiding and is under police guard.
The Jewel of Medina is the fictional story of how A'isha, the prophet Mohammed's child bride, uses tact, courage and the sword to challenge the Islamic established order. The story is based on historical facts, but since a US critic called the description of the wedding night pornographic and the rest of the novel "stupid and vulgar", the large publisher Random House has distanced itself from the book. 

Mr Rynja, 44, who studied Law at Leiden University before becoming a publisher in England, bought the rights to the book for the British market at the beginning of September. At the time, he said,
"As an independent publishing company, we feel strongly that we should not be afraid of the consequences of debate."
Controversial work
British publishers and authors praise Mr Rynja's courage and principles. "I think what he is doing is fantastic," says Andrew Franklin of Profile Books.
"He jumped straight into a gap. The publication of controversial work has become his trademark. He should be applauded for it."
Gibson Square, Mr Rynja's publishing house, distinguishes itself by publishing titles which are too controversial for established companies. Take House of Bush, House of Saud, about the similarities between the Saudi royal family and America's presidential family. Random House declined to publish the book in Great Britain, fearing the Saudis would take it to court for criminal libel. Mr Rynja took up the challenge. 

Eye for publicity
Shortly afterwards, he published If I Did It by OJ Simpson, the "hypothetical" description of his murder of wife Nicole and her lover, and Blowing Up Russia by Alexander Litvinenko about "Russia's secret plans to reintroduce KGB terror". 

It's not out of sensationalism, but with an eye for publicity that Gibson Square takes on "anything worth discussing", according to one author. Mr Rynja, who is described by one newspaper as "a great man with wonderful manners", is also a businessman.
"Principles are good, but he will only publish an author if he can make money out of him,"
says a publisher who knows him well. 
                  Muhammad prohibits intercalary months during the Farewell Pilgrimage 
Muhammad prohibits intercalary months during the Farewell Pilgrimage
 (Photo Wikipedia)
Meanwhile London police have arrested three men under the Terrorism Act and the media are speculating about the risks to the publisher and the author of the book. It is strongly reminiscent of the commotion surrounding The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie twenty years ago.
"If publishers are too intimidated to publish books which offend, then we have thrown away the principle of freedom of speech,"
an anti-censor group concludes in the Guardian newspaper. 

Despite threats
Author Sherry Jones, who researched the culture, history and language of Arabia in the 8th century for almost six years, says that Martin Rynja has decided to publish her novel in Great Britain in spite of the threats. By the end of October it will be on sale in another 15 countries. Anjem Choudary, former member of an extremist Islamic organisation, thinks the decision will have repercussions, saying "Further attacks will be inevitable."

"I was completely bowled over by the novel and the moving love story it portrays,"
Rynja said before he went into hiding.
"I was struck by the careful research of Sherry Jones, who is a journalist with almost 30 years of experience, and her passion for the novel's characters. I immediately felt that it was imperative to publish it. In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear."

Lia  van  Bekhoven
Radio Netherlands 

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