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Religion, atheism and censorship: Shaha, Thayil and Geller

Yesterday I read this interesting article on The Index on Censorship blog.  Alom Shaha, author of the Young Atheist’s Handbook, criticised publishers’ nervousness about taking on a book describing a Muslim’s journey to atheism.  Shaha is robust on this issue:

And that is surely an unacceptable state of affairs; we seem to have gone from a time when publishers and booksellers stood shoulder to shoulder in defence of free speech to publish and sell The Satanic Verses, despite the very real threat of violence, to a time when an entirely innocuous book like mine can be rejected for publication because people fear it will lead to violent repercussions.

His tough stance contrasts with that taken by Jeet Thayil in this Guardian article, in which he describes how the opera Babur, for which he wrote the libretto, has had the Indian leg of its tour cancelled due to fears of violence. Although his instincts are liberal, he concludes by appearing to accept that sometimes the cultural context may make publication an ‘incendiary’ act. ‘If no book is worth dying for, no opera is either.’ (It’s fair enough to be too scared, but if that’s the case then it needs to be fully acknowledged, as does the fact one has let the bigots win.)

Returning to Shaha, Pamela Geller has reproduced the first chunk of the article on Atlas Shrugs.  Oddly, she omits the concluding paragraphs.  For Shaha goes on to describe Muslim responses to his book:

The only people who have not suggested that the book might be offensive to Muslims are Muslims themselves. Not a single Muslim has come forward to say that he or she has been offended by my book. The most strongly worded email I’ve received is one that expressed pity that I had “lost the one truth path” and the hope that “Allah would guide [me] back to it”.

Shaha does not want to brush aside genuine difficulties facing some Muslims who want to abandon their religion, (and I assume he’d readily acknowledge that the problems are much more acute in many Muslim majority countries):

It is perhaps unsurprising that people from Muslim backgrounds, where Islam is at the heart of their cultural identity, often fail to take the final step towards deconversion and choose instead to live lives of quiet non-belief.  I know many secret Ex-Muslims and I totally understand why they choose to keep up the pretence of belief.

This Eid, my thoughts will be with them.

So – to sum up – Thayil reluctantly goes along with self-censorship, Shaha refuses to be censored, and Geller indulges in a sneaky bit of selective censorship which has not been picked up by her BTL fans.