News for Sociology of Religion--Sun Apr 13 06:14:58 EST 1997

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    ISTANBUL, Turkey—When Wilfried Hofmann was a young German exchange student in the United States 45 years ago, a car in which he had hitched a ride through Mississippi was hit head on by (New York Times) (*)

    When the notorious Byzantine empress Theodora was not scandalizing Constantinople with nude dances and other outrageous antics, she liked to adjourn to Bursa, a town 60 miles south of the (New York Times)

    Religion Reporter FOR United Church minister Christopher White, one issue is undebatable: Although his five-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, is  (*)

    ROME—It has been more than two years since Pope John Paul II planned to visit Sarajevo, the city he described last week as a ``sad symbol of the tragedies that have struck Europe in the 20th (New York Times)

    Jihad, by Paul Fregosi, was to have been published by Little Brown later this year. But after a Muslim academic warned the firm that ``Muslim countries might, and should, boycott the publishers  (*)


    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    ISTANBUL, Turkey—When Wilfried Hofmann was a young German exchange student in the United States 45 years ago, a car in which he had hitched a ride through Mississippi was hit head on by another car. Both men in the oncoming car were killed, and Hofmann and his driver suffered severe injuries. One of the doctors who treated him, amazed that he had survived, told him, ``God must have something special in mind for you.''

    Hofmann wondered about that comment, but it faded from his mind as he attended law school in Germany and then earned a master's degree at Harvard. He almost forgot it entirely after entering the German diplomatic corps, where he specialized in the arcane details of European security policy.

    But in 1980, after much reading and long reflection, he made a decision that astonished his family, friends and colleagues: He converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam.

    He was a Muslim during the years he spent as director of information for NATO, a post for which he was given the rare security clearance Cosmic Top Secret Atomal, granting him access to some of the alliance's most closely guarded nuclear secrets. His appointment as ambassador to Algeria in 1987 provoked a storm of protest from Germans who considered it unthinkable that their country could be represented abroad by a non-Christian. He weathered the storm and served a full term in Algeria and then another term as ambassador to Morocco.

    Since retiring from the diplomatic corps in 1994, Hofmann has embraced a new role, perhaps the one that the faintly remembered Mississippi doctor had predicted decades earlier. He writes and travels ceaselessly, seeking to explain Muslims and Christians to each other.

    The Istanbul apartment that Hofmann, 65, shares with his Turkish-born wife reflects the unusual blend of cultures he has embraced. His living room is dominated by richly embroidered red-and-gold Moroccan sofas and inlaid silver artifacts from North Africa, but when he offers a guest coffee it is not the Turkish sort but instead Jacobs Kronung, a favorite of German connoisseurs.

    On one table a magnificent Koran lies open, and on another there is a tin of Mozartkugeln, the rich pistachio-filled chocolates from Austria.

    ``My mission is to build bridges, to do whatever I can to make sure that we don't come to a violent clash of civilizations,'' Hofmann said. ``Over and over again, I see that a Muslim from the Muslim world is not equipped to explain Islam to the West. To do that you have to know what makes the Western world tick. The same applies to explaining Western culture in the Muslim world. I believe I am at home in both worlds.''

    Like many Westerners, Hofmann is disturbed by what he views as the decay of the moral fabric that once bound societies together. There is nothing specifically Muslim in his lament about ``rampant crime, the destruction of the family, the structural addictions to everything from drugs and alcohol to television and the Internet, the readiness of people to pursue their basest passions to such extremes as child pornography, the cooling of social relationships, the breakdown of solidarity among people, even the inability to confront death and the desire to deny it instead of accepting it as inevitable.''

    ``Also, the subjugation of everything to economic laws, the belief that things like family and contemplation are less important than maximizing profit and production,'' he continued. ``People who live in such a way that they earn less or produce less than they could are looked upon as crazy.''

    For Hofmann, who changed his first name to Murad after converting, the alternative to what he views as an increasingly amoral life style in the West is Islam. He does not practice a Westernized or watered-down version of the religion, but interprets it rigorously according to the Koran, which he reads in its entirety, in Arabic, three times each year. He has also completed the ritual pilgrimage to Mecca, the haj.

    ``We never saw him as crazy,'' said one of Hofmann's former diplomatic colleagues. ``We respected what he did. He has become a missionary. Like many converts, his belief is very strong. There's a touch of fanaticism, but only a touch. On some points, like the compatibility of Islam with democracy, I don't find him completely convincing. But it's always a good thing to have an educated Westerner who can speak authoritatively about Islam.''

    This year, Hofmann's travels, which are paid for by Muslim groups, will include a two-week tour of the United States and visits to Casablanca, Morocco; Bahrain; Cairo; Amman, Jordan, and Oxford, England. He says he has seen Western tolerance for Islam plummet in recent years, a phenomenon he attributes to the Persian Gulf war and the Iranian death sentence passed on the writer Salman Rushdie.

    ``When I published my book `Diary of a German Muslim' in 1987, the reviews were very respectful even in conservative newspapers,'' he said. ``But in 1992, my book `Islam: The Alternative' was bitterly attacked in Germany even before it was on sale. The very title was seen as a provocation.''

    Several of Hofmann's works have been translated into Arabic, English and other languages.

    Citing the Koran, Hofmann said there was no legal basis for a Muslim death sentence against Rushdie. He also condemned many repressive practices of regimes that rule in the name of Islam.

    ``Certainly Islam has been used to bless all sorts of evil, but so has Christianity,'' he said. ``It has been used to justify oppressive regimes including fascism, and to bless all sorts of weapons, even atomic bombs used against cities. No religion can protect itself against being misused.''

    Most of Hofmann's writings seek to explain Islam to non-Muslims, but he has also published a slim volume called ``Islam 2000'' in which he addresses himself to Muslims.

    Most of it is an analysis of Western prejudices and a critique of the Western view that sooner or later everyone in the world will ``wear jeans, eat hamburgers, drink Coca-Cola, smoke Marlboros, watch CNN, live in Bauhaus-shaped buildings as a citizen of a parliamentary democracy and probably be a pro forma member of some Christian church.''

    But the book also calls upon Muslims and their political leaders to abandon practices that Hofmann says have no basis in the Koran and have led Islam to be associated in the Western mind with ``fanaticism, brutality, intolerance, violence, despotism, violation of human rights and obscurantism.''

    ``There is no use denying that the Muslim world has been shying away for far too long from a constructive, unapologetic discussion of human rights issues,'' he wrote. In many Muslim countries, he continued, ``half of the entire population—meaning women—is prevented systematically from developing fully its human potential.''

    Many Muslims familiar with Hofmann's work view him as a hero, but others are not so sure.

    ``I see him as a wonderful example for Muslims, and especially for our youth,'' Nadim Elyas, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said in a telephone interview. ``Naturally there are some Muslims, especially those with extreme totalitarian views, who don't see him so favorably. Some find his positions insulting. But his style is such that he doesn't make real enemies, because he never tries to tell people what to do. He is just offering his ideas and suggestions.''

    Although Hofmann is often away from Turkey, he closely follows the resurgence of Islamic consciousness that is shaking politics and society here. He views it as a natural reaction to 75 years of militantly secular rule.

    ``Rural Turkey was never un-Islamic,'' he said. ``A people cannot be radically torn away from its historical roots without the pendulum swinging back after a certain period of time.''

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    When the notorious Byzantine empress Theodora was not scandalizing Constantinople with nude dances and other outrageous antics, she liked to adjourn to Bursa, a town 60 miles south of the city on the other side of the Sea of Marmara, with a retinue of up to 4,000 attendants and acolytes. There, she held festivals in the hot springs, which bubble continuously from the earth, providing just the sort of luxurious sensuality she enjoyed.<

    I understand what attracted Theodora. The thermal bath I visited, in a wing of the once-grand Celik Palace Hotel, is one of half a dozen still open to the public in Bursa. It is a circular basin about 30 feet across, illuminated in part by hundreds of columns of light streaming through small holes in the dome overhead. The water is almost too hot to enter, but not quite. Recreants sit on one of the wide steps that run around the circumference, submerging as much of their bodies as they choose. The hall is filled with steam, giving visitors the opiated sense of having walked into an Andrei Tarkovsky film.

    Attendants suggest limiting a visit to 20 minutes, and that's just as well. The experience dulls the senses so completely that one might otherwise drift into blissful unconsciousness and slip numbly below the surface.<

    Which would be a shame, because so many more monuments from Bursa's glory days remain to be seen. They include rich museums, splendid royal tombs, and two of the world's most exquisitely designed mosques.<

    The last decade has not been kind to Bursa. The city has grown without much apparent planning to a metropolis of 900,000. Two large auto factories and dozens of metal fabricating plants and textile mills have turned what was once known as Green Bursa into a major industrial center. Residents say that pollution has raised the air temperature so that snows, which used to be knee-deep each winter, now rarely reach ankle height. But in springtime, there are enough trees blooming to show how the city won its fame as an idyllic retreat.

    Bursa still attracts large numbers of visitors. Their persistence testifies to the richness of its historical and cultural heritage, and to a charm that has somehow managed to withstand the ravages that have accompanied Turkey's headlong rush toward modernity.<

    Bursa has been the capital of two empires. It was the center of the Seljuk monarchy in the 11th century, and 400 years later, the Ottoman sultans established their seat there. It was pillaged by Tamerlane's hordes, devastated by an earthquake in 1855, and occupied by the Greeks from 1920 to 1922. Through it all, the great monuments that gave it world fame have remained more or less intact.<

    One of those monuments, the Ulu Mosque in the center of the city, owes its grand scale in part to the desire of its builder, Sultan Yildirim Bayezid, to break a promise. Before setting out on a military campaign, he promised that if God gave him victory, he would show his gratitude by building 20 mosques in Bursa.

    He did return victorious, but then realized that he did not have enough money to keep his vow. The solution he conceived would do credit to any modern politician. He announced that he would build a single mosque with 20 domes.<

    Construction of the Ulu Mosque began in 1396 and took four years. Its twin minarets and central glass cupola, the three-level fountain that stands in the middle of the cavernous main hall and the gold-inlaid prayer alcoves and exquisite walnut pulpit make it a highly unusual combination of late Seljuk and early Ottoman architecture. Among its most striking features are the sweeping works of calligraphy that decorate the walls and the 12 rectangular pillars that support the domes.<

    You need walk only a few steps from the mosque to leave its spiritual atmosphere and plunge into the jumble of modern commerce. Bursa's market, partly covered and partly open, is among the most colorful and lively to be found anywhere in Turkey, partly because this region is one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the Middle East. The produce of nearby farms overflows from a hundred shops and outdoor stands.

    At one I counted 13 varieties of olive, and at another an even larger selection of local cheeses. Others offer dazzling selections of vegetables, grains, lentils, spices, nuts, flowers and fresh and dried fruits. Connoisseurs say that the famous Bursa peaches are the city's most succulent product, but don't tell that to anyone addicted to the candied chestnuts.<

    At the adjacent Koza Han, built 500 years ago as a center for silk traders, the upper floor is still used for silk retailing. Downstairs one of the corridors is lined with antiques stores that offer framed examples of Arabic calligraphy, silver candlesticks, timepieces, jewelry, faded fabrics, ceramics and a host of other bric-a-brac. Of the silk shops, I found some of the most original designs at Caretta, in stall 233. The best selection of antiques is at Minyatur, stall 10-11.

    A silk blouse or a brightly colored scarf at Caretta costs $20. At Minyatur, framed examples of fine 19th-century calligraphy range from $125 to $2,200, and a 120-year-old mirror framed in handcrafted silver costs $1,550.<

    One of the oldest arguments in Bursa is whether the Ulu Mosque is the city's finest or whether that honor belongs to the Green Mosque a couple of miles away. If you have a weakness for marble carvings and ceramic art, the Green Mosque, which was completed in 1424, will probably be your choice. The stalactite marble portal over the door is a masterly weave of Arabic inscriptions and ornamentation, and the equally ornate marble fountain inside, carved from a single piece of stone, is just as remarkable. The two rear alcoves, both under high domes, are paneled with spectacular blue-and-green tiles, which rank among the finest examples of this great art form to be found anywhere. All in all, the Green Mosque feels as much like a palace as a place of worship.<

    Across the street from the Green Mosque is its counterpart, the Green Tomb. It houses the mortal remains of Sultan Mehmed I, who expanded and unified the Ottoman Empire before his death in 1421.

    The building is hexagonal, more Seljuk than Ottoman in design, and covered with turquoise tiles. Intricately carved walnut doors guard the sarcophagus, which is encased in deep blue tiles overlaid with bold calligraphic inscriptions in bright gold. More tiles, some of them carrying magnificently artistic transcriptions of Muslim proverbs and verses from the Koran, cover the walls and surround the windows.<

    Outside, skip the strip of cheap handicraft stands and find the Yavus antiques store at 10 Yesil Caddesi Muze Sokak. This is just the kind of store I love: a chaotic and dusty jumble of metalwork, old jewelry, coffee pots, statuary and other trinkets piled haphazardly on top of one another. On my last visit, I walked away with an Ottoman coin and a new ceramic vase, which I chose over a 100-year-old rival that cost 10 times as much.

    For some reason, I decided that I had no use for the inlaid silver dagger that beckoned me from one shelf. I will buy it on my next trip, but it's yours if you get there first.< <

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    c. 1997 The Globe and Mail (Toronto)




    Religion Reporter

    FOR United Church minister Christopher White, one issue is undebatable: Although his five-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, is alive today because of high-tech heart surgery, she was also healed by the power of prayer.

    During one of January's worst snow storms, scores of members trudged into Westminster United Church in Whitby, Ont., to take part in the church's first prayer vigil as Elizabeth was undergoing surgery. Her discharge from the hospital several days later was, to the White family, extraordinary.

    ``The way she came through this was a miracle,'' Mr. White said. ``It was powerful for us to see this little girl on the day of the surgery waking up from her anesthetic on a ventilator and trying to get off the bed in the intensive-care unit to go home.''

    It is a subject that has captured the imagination of North America's medical and scientific communities: Is prayer, and by extension religion, good for your health? Prayer researchers say yes.

    ``We are in the extreme early stages of analyzing the effects of prayer,'' said Dr. Larry Dossey, executive editor of the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, and one of the leading authorities on prayer research. ``But I think there's compelling evidence that something's going on.''

    Other religion researchers and critics counter that the prayer studies are flawed and inconclusive.

    ``The prayer research is not very good. . . . The evidence is very shaky,'' said Dr. Harold Koenig, a psychiatrist and director of a program on religion, aging and health at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

    North American believers do not need any persuading. They are demonstrating their desire to invite God onto their health-care team. The Internet is packed with prayer groups willing to take requests to the Almighty and it is swamped with individual requests for prayer, which can be taken up by anyone on line.

    A Time magazine/CNN phone poll conducted last June in the United States found that 82 per cent of 1,004 adults surveyed believed in the healing power of personal prayer. And in a USA Weekend magazine poll done in February of 1996, 56 per cent indicated that faith had been a strong factor in their recovery from illness, injury or disease.

    U.S. researchers are turning a previously ignored topic, the impact of religion on health, into a hot area of research. Studies published in mainstream scientific journals are showing that religion, with prayer as a component, is not only good for the soul, it is good for the mind and body. It is being credited with having a beneficial effect on everything from mortality rates to rates of depression after surgery.

    ``People are saying this is absolutely vital to their ability to get through difficult times,'' said Dr. Koenig, who is researching the effects of religion on elderly Americans and who has just published a book entitled Is Religion Good For Your Health?

    ``While the rain does fall on the just and the unjust, statistically for (church) attenders . . . it's like carrying an umbrella: Less rain is going to fall on you,'' said Dr. David Larson, a psychiatrist and founder of the National Institute for Health Care Research in Rockville, Md., which promotes research on religion.

    Some U.S. medical schools, including such prestigious institutions as the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, have been so impressed by the research that they have begun offering courses and programs on faith and health to doctors in training. (Some doctors hope this may be another way of reducing health-care costs.)

    In Canada, no medical schools offer similar programs. However, McMaster University's medical school in Hamilton held its first conference on spirituality and medicine to a standing-room-only crowd in October.

    The research is compelling. In 1990, the American Journal of Psychiatry published a study that looked at the effect on elderly women after hip surgery of religious belief and church attendance, and the degree of strength and comfort drawn from God or religion. Women of faith were less depressed on discharge.

    A study published in 1995 in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that elderly heart patients who found comfort in their faith and were socially active were 14 times more likely to survive surgery than their counterparts. Patients who were involved in at least one area were three times more likely to survive.

    In his book, Dr. Koenig notes that religion has been found to have both direct and indirect effects on health. The direct effects include the fact that people of faith take better care of their health, so they seek earlier diagnosis and treatment of illness. And they are less likely to engage in harmful behaviour, such as abusing alcohol and drugs. The indirect effects are a reduction in emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression, and, as the heart-patient study found, increased social support.

    As the heart-study researchers at the University of Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire noted: ``It appears that there is something unique and life-protective about participating in an organized, regular social activity,'' be it of a religious nature or not.

    Dr. Koenig agrees. ``Our research has shown that just praying on your own, as opposed to praying alone and being part of a religious community, living out your faith and having a strong belief system, is not associated with better health.''

    When it comes to prayer research, the study most highly touted by believers was published in 1988 in the Southern Medical Journal. The random, double-blind study, which was conducted in the coronary-care unit at San Francisco General Hospital, separated 393 patients into two groups. One group was prayed for; the other was not. The prayed-for group was one- fifth as likely to need antibiotics, and one-third as likely to develop fluid on the lungs.

    This study was and still is scathingly criticized by skeptics. They note that the people doing the praying were given regular updates on the patients for whom they were praying.

    ``That alone is a violation of the double-blind technique that supposedly had been employed,'' said Dr. Gary Posner, founder of the Tampa Bay Skeptics in Tampa and one of the most vocal critics of prayer research.

    He said it also can be assumed that although the prayer group may not have been praying for half the patients, some of their friends and family were.

    ``In fact, it's conceivable at least some of the patients in the control group were actually getting more prayers said for them every day than patients in the prayer group.''

    Dr. Dossey, who published a book last year called Prayer is Good Medicine, agreed during an interview from Santa Fe that there are serious problems with the quality of the prayer studies. Although he lauds the San Francisco General Hospital study in his book Healing Words, he also labels the results ``inconclusive and inherently ambiguous.''

    ``If he admits the shakiness of the empirical data, then he shouldn't be making empirical claims,'' said Barry Beyerstein, a professor of biopsychology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and chairman of the group B.C. Skeptics. (The skeptic groups operate under the umbrella of CSICOP - the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal in Buffalo, N.Y.)

    Dr. Dossey countered that the best studies involve the effect of prayer on non-human subjects, including organisms of various sorts such as fungi, yeast and plants.

    Of the five studies on fungi, yeast and bacteria mentioned in Healing Words, only one - which did have positive results - indicates that there was a control group. For these kinds of studies to be taken seriously by the scientific community, a control group is required.

    For people such as Bill Gardner, an 82-year-old self-described agnostic, all this debate is meaningless. When he learned that his 19- year-old granddaughter, Julie, was suffering from a life-threatening brain tumour, he was devastated.

    When she told her father at her home in Beaumont outside Edmonton that God didn't love her any more, Mr. Gardner decided he had to act.

    He wrote a letter, published in a major Toronto daily newspaper, that asked the public to pray to ``Julie's God'' asking Him to restore her faith in Him. (Ms. Gardner, who had surgery to remove the tumour just before Christmas, is now blind. She also has received intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments.)

    Mr. Gardner received dozens of letters and phone calls in response to his appeal. Shirley Friday of Hamilton was one of them.

    ``If there are complete strangers out there feeling for you and praying for you,'' she said, ``I think it gives you some feeling of comfort.''

    Ms. Gardner's father said from his office in Edmonton that it has given him emotional strength to know that strangers are praying for his daughter.

    ``There's no way of saying how much; I wake up at night terrified,'' he said, his voice breaking as he choked back tears.

    For whatever reason, Ms. Gardner's condition has improved a bit, her father said this week. A recent examination showed that what is left of the tumour has not grown. And Ms. Gardner, who did not speak for a couple of months because of what her father believes to be a mixture of depression, anger and mental confusion caused by the treatments, has started to talk again.

    Mr. White said he, too, felt emotionally healed by the prayers offered for his daughter.

    ``I don't worry about (scientific) proof. I look out the door and my little five-year-old is just walking home from school. In half-an-hour, she's going to be bouncing around the ballet studio. It works for me.''

    But back in Ontario, was there anything miraculous about little Elizabeth's recovery from surgery and her discharge after several days? Her doctor says no.

    ``Many (children) are out of the hospital within five to 10 days. . . . That's a pretty normal recovery rate,'' said Dr. William Freedom, head cardiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

    But ``maybe if they hadn't had the prayer vigil, she would have been here for four weeks,'' Dr. Freedom added. ``These are the imponderables in life.''


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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    ROME—It has been more than two years since Pope John Paul II planned to visit Sarajevo, the city he described last week as a ``sad symbol of the tragedies that have struck Europe in the 20th century.''

    The war over Bosnia was still on then, and the dangers for him and for those who would have gone to see him were considered too great. The trip was postponed until Saturday, when the 76-year-old pontiff leaves Rome for a 25-hour visit to the Bosnian capital. He will preach peace and tolerance to a population that has seen little of either in recent years.

    Although Sarajevo is a safer city now than it was in September 1994, tensions among Muslims, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats persist, straining at the peace accords reached in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995. Its Catholic population has shrunk to 20,000 from 50,000; once a symbol of multiethnic harmony, the city is becoming more Muslim in character.

    Security is not the problem it was when Bosnian Serbs' guns were shelling, and the airport is now safe for the pope's plane. But bomb attacks against both churches and mosques over the last two months testify to the ethnic and religious rivalries.

    The Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, says these tensions never affected plans for the pope, who is slowed by what has been called a neurodegenerative disease. The trip is his first since he had appendix surgery in October.

    ``These difficulties are another reason to go,'' Valls said. ``He has been waiting so long to go on this trip, that his determination to go and say what he wants to say means he has to go.''

    Bosnia's Muslim leaders have made a major effort to welcome the pope with the solidarity that he is traveling to promote. Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim chairman of Bosnia's presidency, has urged residents, ``Do your best to greet him with all the dignity and respect he deserves.''

    As the most prominent international figure to visit the city in the last year, John Paul promises once again to focus world opinion, however briefly, on its persistent ruin and economic devastation.

    Ever since the siege of the city began in 1992, its sufferings have been a topic of the pope's prayers and diplomacy. He was an early supporter of Bosnian statehood; he has referred repeatedly to Sarajevo's past as the region's most cosmopolitan city, seeing in it an example of the cooperation he wants to promote.

    ``The pope has placed much importance upon this trip because of Sarajevo's emblematic significance,'' Monsignor Jean-Claude Perisset, a Vatican official, said last week, adding that the pope meant to remind Bosnians that ``it is still possible to live together peacefully.''

    The Vatican welcomed the signing of the Dayton accords but has always expressed reservations about dividing the country into Serbian and Muslim-Croatian parts.

    ``The accord stopped the conflict,'' Perisset said, ``but elements for a peaceful future have yet to be brought into being.''

    The recent violence has increased security concerns. These apply not only to the pope but also to the Catholics who are expected from areas including Croatia at Sunday Mass in Sarajevo.

    ``Recent attacks in the country prove that the central government still doesn't control the security of the country,'' Perisset said. ``We are expecting pilgrims from Mostar and from Banja Luka, and we foresee that they will have some difficulty traveling.''

    The pope has often emphasized that religion should not be used to divide populations, and on a visit to the Croatian capital, Zagreb, in 1995, he said it was ``not lawful to attribute to religion the phenomenon of nationalistic intolerance.''

    But one goal of his trip is to encourage the Catholics in Bosnia, who are ``treated like hostages,'' Cardinal Vinko Pujic, the archbishop of Sarajevo, told Vatican Radio.

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    c.1997 The Independent, London

    PUBLISHERS CAVE IN TO THREAT OF ISLAM BAN: By CHRIS BLACKHURST war'' -has been cancelled by its publisher for fear of offending Islamic fundamentalists.

    Jihad, by Paul Fregosi, was to have been published by Little Brown later this year. But after a Muslim academic warned the firm that ``Muslim countries might, and should, boycott the publishers if they published the work,'' it was dropped.

    Mr Fregosi, author of a critically acclaimed account of the Napoleonic wars, said Little Brown's attitude changed after a letter-bomb attack on a Saudi newspaper office in London.

    In a letter to him last month, ending their contract, the firm's editorial director, Richard Beswick, warned that ``if Little Brown received threats from Islamic fundamentalists and had to arrange for security, we could look to you for the cost of provision of such security. Equally, if Little Brown's list (not just your book, but our full range of titles) were boycotted, we could look to you for our losses.'' Little Brown's planned jacket for the book billed Jihad as ``the first general history about this subject to appear in print in the West''. It was ``both scholarly and accessible'' and ``a crucial chronicle of a much-neglected area of world history''.

    Mr Fregosi says that it was Little Brown's decision to seek an expert opinion from Dr Roger Boase, an English academic converted to Islam, that turned the publisher against his book. Dr Boase reported that he had written an unbalanced account and had relied on ``a fallacy that Islam was spread by the sword''.

    Mr Fregosi said his aim had been to show that Muhammad was more of a warrior and more bloodthirsty than his image.

    At his home, Dr Boase said the book was ``offensive to anyone who cares about the truth, regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim''. He did not accept that Muslims were over-sensitive, or that Christians would not threaten to boycott the publisher of a book about the Crusades. There ``ought to be limits on what people can do''.

    ^(Distributed by New York Times Special Features)@=

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