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A distinguished writer and academic has accused leading publishers of turning down his latest book because it is too critical of Islam.
David Selbourne, who has written more than a dozen books, and his literary agent suspect that publishers are shunning The Losing Battle With Islam because it could provoke anger from Islamic extremists and other critics.
Among the subjects covered in the book is the “negative impact” of actions by Muslims in recent decades. It suggests that Islam is not a religion of peace, balance and compassion, as many of its adherents claim.
The book also discusses the fatwa that was issued against Salman Rushdie, the novelist, by the Ayatollah Khomeini, after the publication of The Satanic Verses. Mr Selbourne writes of the “cruel bounty repeatedly offered for his [Mr Rushie’s] head”.
Six publishers, including Penguin, HarperCollins and Heinemann, have turned down the book in the past five months.
Mr Selbourne, who is British but lives in Italy, said that he believed that the reason for the repeated rejection was clear.
“The reaction of the publishers is unprecedented. The subject is very contentious. I think there are some people who have fixed views which don’t permit them to look at the matter dispassionately.
“It is controversial because it is a record — written without fear or favour — of what has actually happened during the Islamic revival. My book has been turned down because there is hesitation about looking at these matters squarely in the face, especially in Britain.”
In the past, Mr Selbourne, whose previous publishers have included MacMillan, Cape, Penguin and Little, Brown, has had little difficulty getting his work into print.
His book The Principle of Duty, published in 1994, was influential in Tony Blair’s circle and was highly praised by Michael Howard, who was a Conservative Cabinet minister at the time. More recently Mr Selbourne has been advising David Willetts, the shadow works and pensions secretary, on future Tory strategy.
Mr Selbourne added: “Many people don’t want to face up to the scale of the challenge that the non-Muslim world is facing.
“There is a lot of hidden sympathy for attacks on the West by Islam, even though people who have this sympathy wouldn’t always admit it.”
Mr Selbourne, who was educated at Manchester Grammar School and Balliol College, Oxford, has a reputation as a skilled, knowledgeable but abrasive award-winning writer.
His new book looks at the development of Islam from 1947 to the present day, concentrating on the period from 1990.
“I believe the book is a scrupulous analysis of the effect of the Islamic revival. It is precisely the book I would have wanted to read if I hadn’t written it myself. It isn’t a polemic against Islam although much of what Muslims have done has had a negative impact. For some, it will look like a negative portrayal of Islam, but it is a necessary work.”
In his book, Mr Selbourne questions whether Islam should be regarded as a “religion of peace”. He writes: “If Islam were truly a religion of compassion, mercy, patience, balance and peace — as most Muslims and a shrinking minority of non-Muslims denote it — many of the acts which have been recorded in this work, whether carried out by Muslims or against them, would not have taken place.”
Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, who published three of Mr Selbourne’s books before becoming his literary agent six years ago, said that he shared the author’s belief that the book had been rejected because of its controversial nature.
The publishers either declined to comment on their reasons for rejecting the book or were unavailable for comment, although those who did reply all claimed that they had not been afraid to publish the book. Instead, they gave different reasons, ranging from the book not being right for them to there being too many books on Islam. The book is being read by a seventh publisher.
“David is an extremely distinguished, polemical writer. It has surprised me that it wasn’t accepted, but it appears that some publishers regard it as too much of a hot potato,” said Mr Sinclair-Stevenson.
(Posted on July 26, 2004)