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War of words

October 6, 2009

A German publishing house has backed out of printing a novel out of fear it would be judged as insulting to Muslims. Critics have accused the company of censorship and pandering to extremists.

A hand holds an opened book with blank pages
A line of dialogue in the text was judged offensiveImage: Flickr/Daoist56

Droste Verlag said on Tuesday that it had cancelled the printing of a murder mystery, "To Whom Honor is Due" by Gabriele Brinkmann, because the author refused to alter passages in which a character makes derogatory remarks about the Koran.

The story has attracted media attention, with German papers and pundits accusing the publisher of self-censorship and bowing to intimidation from extremists.

The novel, which centers upon a fictional "honor killing," was due for release last month. The publisher cited concerns about retaliation from Islamists, fearing an uproar like that which followed a Danish newspaper's publication of caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in 2005.

According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, Brinkmann refused to change a line of dialogue from "You can shove your Koran up..." to "You can shove your honor up..."

Company executive Felix Droste reportedly had asked an expert on Islamic society to review the manuscript for things that might cause extremists to want to harm his family or his business. The expert had suggested changing that line.

"After the Mohammed caricatures, one knows that one cannot publish words or drawings that defame Islam without incurring a security risk," Droste told Spiegel.

"Matter of principle"

Brinkmann, who wrote the book under the pseudonym W.W. Domsky, said that she refused to change the wording as a matter of principle.

"It's a scandal for the publisher to just tuck its tail between its legs like this. This is anticipatory obedience," Brinkmann told German media.

A spokeswoman for Dusseldorf-based Droste said that the company has a tradition of publishing controversial books, but would not publish those that insulted religions - whether Islam, Christianity or others.

"We do not want to offend religious groups," Nora Tichy told Reuters.

The controversy over the Danish caricatures has been used by other publishers as justification for changing or restricting a book's content. In August, Yale University Press edited them out of a book about the controversy, "The Cartoons That Shook the World," by Danish-born politics professor Jytte Klausen. Other images depicting the prophet Mohammed were removed as well, with Yale Press Director John Donatich citing security concerns as the reason.

Editor: Nancy Isenson