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We need to talk about Islam
by Alom Shaha
"We can't publish this, we'll get firebombed." Apparently this was the response from one of the staff at Biteback Publishing, the UK publishers of my book, The Young Atheist's Handbook, when it was first presented to them. Thankfully, Iain Dale, the managing director, laughed at the idea, saying, "it's OK, we're on the 10th floor" and went on to publish the book anyway.
It's not just staff at Biteback who may have been concerned about publishing my book — according to a senior editor at one of the largest international publishers, who claimed to be personally keen to give me a deal, she was unable to convince her colleagues to agree because a "number of people" in the company would be "uncomfortable" about it. She then went on to explain that by "uncomfortable" she really meant "afraid".
So, what is it about my book that has elicited such a response from people whose work it is to trade in ideas? Have I penned an incendiary tome that "insults" Islam or otherwise risks "offending" Muslims? Well, I don't think I've done any such thing — I've simply written an account of how and why I came to be an atheist. It's much less an attack on religion than it is a celebration of atheism. But the fact that it is written by someone from a Muslim background seems to have been sufficient to make some people afraid of publishing it. 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.
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