Thursday, 8 October 2009

Felix Droste on Withdrawing Offensive Title

There has been a minor scandal in Germany over a publisher withdrawing a crime novel dealing with "honour killings" (a term that doesn't seem to warrant quotation marks in German any more). The publishing house, Droste Verlag, had commissioned a regional crime novel - a very popular genre in federalist Germany - but rejected the writer Gabriele Brinkmann's book after she refused to make editorial changes.

That much is clear. What isn't clear is why they requested the changes. There was initially talk of them commissioning an expert to check whether the book would offend Muslim sensibilities, thus presenting a security risk along the lines of The Jewel of Medina. It seems this is what Felix Droste wrote to the author in emails, which she then released to the press. She argued, as far as I understand, that the allegedly offensive passages were part of the local colour, written in the words of the rough-tough detectives involved rather than reflecting her own or the publisher's opinion.

Now the publisher has reacted, issuing a press release and giving an interview in the TAZ newspaper. Felix Droste claims it's actually more a case of refusing to offend religious sensibilities:

A crime novel that slanders Islam and contains xenophobic passages doesn't fit into our programme. I don't publish books that hurt the feelings of people living among us. And it would be too cheap a trick just out of provocation. (...) The manuscript was so xenophobic in places that it sent a shiver down my back to read it.

He also questions the quality of the book itself and says he has since received murder threats from right-wingers.

This is such a loaded issue that it's hard to comment. But I have to say that I commend the publisher's decision, at least based on my knowledge of the case. He has a right to refuse to publish something he considers racist and offensive, and that's what it comes down to. He may be mincing his words slightly, using terms like ausländerfeindlich, Mitbürger and that Ehrenmord without quotation marks, all rather euphemistic for just plain racist, Muslims and "honour killings". But his motivation seems very noble to me.

It's unfortunate, though, that he set himself up in his emails to be presented by Spiegel and so on as a lily-livered liberal scared of Islamist attack. Had he told the author in the first place that her novel was offensive rather than a threat to his family, the scandal may not have broken. But arguing first and foremost with the Islamist terror card is foolish, if not actually just as prejudiced as he is painting the author. Because if you instantly equate insulting Muslims with suicide belts and incendiary devices through letterboxes, you're kind of ignoring the vast majority who, you know, don't resort to terrorism.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I missed that debate, but I think the reason why "Ehrenmord" can go without "" in German is that the word "Mord" is already condemnation in a way that "killing" isn't.