I had planned to begin clarifying the writing process in this, my second post in “World Citizen.” However, life intervened. So, instead, I’m inviting you to imagine with me the sorts of publications that might not get widely distributed if our society rejected certain of its values.
More exactly, it seems that, analogous to the Nixon Era’s cultural appropriation of all things Sino, during the Trump Era, all things Muslim have become North American curiosities. Textual analyses of the last few years’ worth of New York Times articles and of the last few years’ worth of CNN reports confirm this deduction. Anecdotal experience does, too.
This past week, for example, while marketing my newest book, the rom-com Ten Kilo and One Million, I encountered a reviewer whose email address was an explicit praise of Allah. Ironically, that same day, I learned that a JPost piece of mine, which was published half of a decade ago, and which touted Israel as the Jewish homeland, was mentioned by communication scholar Dr. Kyle Conway, in his freshly issued Little Mosque on the Prairie and the Paradoxes of Cultural Translation (Cultural Spaces).
It was impossible for me to send the reviewer a copy of my new novel without my having to type repugnant words. It was equally tough for me to ignore the implications of an academic liking my assessment of a compromised literary icon and of the (temporarily) compromised Jewish nation. The starting points common to both of these incidents were their focus on Islam and their attempt to sway opinion on the relative acceptability of that religion.
Granted, isolated happenings do not make a social movement any more than a pickle makes a complete salad, albeit polar reportage and salty vegetables are both worth sampling. That said, right-minded persons ought to be disturbed when email addresses are used to emphasize political predilections and when professors elect to write about “saleable diversity.” Any rhetoric issued about global dominance ought to be regarded with care, no matter how that rhetoric reaches its conclusions and no matter the nature of the conclusions it reaches.
For that reason, for the time being, if we skip well-known, frequently touted epithets about the caretakers of the publishing industry, the answer, as to why references to the unified Islamic community are suddenly sexy to Westerners can be found in several groups’ agendas. Simply, publishers want to make money, writers want to share their viewpoints, and audiences want to feel as though the resources they use when reading (or listening to) assemblages of words are well spent. Today, for better or for worse, exchanges about Islam’s place in the world fills those needs.
Consider that publishers will customarily pass over books of literary merit to showcase ones whose authors are well branded since, otherwise, titles will flood markets during their launches only to trickle to nothing shortly thereafter. To those decision makers, classics are nice, but not lucrative and most cutting-edge, highbrow works, too, are poor investments. They know that there are more than two million new books published annually as well as nearly one hundred and thirty million distinct titles in existence. We’re talking millions of unique books, not thousands or hundreds. Couple those numbers with modern readers’ tendency to want instant gratification (think: fast food, smart phones, bullet trains, and more) and publishers’ fiduciary difficulties become appreciable. For the same reason why, at the moment, flash fiction and progressively brief, parsimonious blogs outperform short stories and relatively longer, more sophisticated lifestyle columns, publishers are increasingly authorizing short-sighted projects. As long as: ISIS is in the news, certain kingdoms control the majority of Earth’s fuel supplies, and literate citizens cherish wealth, no matter its disproportionate distribution, then books supporting or opposing  Islam will sell well.
As far as most publishers are concerned, readers who want slow cooking should look to their crockpots, not to Amazon.com or to Goodreads. For the sake of profits, media gatekeepers have already largely let go of: simmering philosophies, careful diced explorations, and discriminating preparations of syntheses. Currently, even the fashion industry is less fickle than the publishing one.
Per writers’ culpability in promoting texts with short lifespans, i.e. with frivolous subject matters, it’s a matter of too few seats and too many partygoers. There are more so-called “word jockeys” now than there were so-called “therapists” in the 1970s. It’s become ridiculously easy to stick personal impressions on the Internet. Folks in search of their fifteen minutes of celebrity, who are not necessarily also seeking altruistic exchanges, fill the convergent media with loud flashy reveling. In view of the fact that so many merrymakers have arrogated the words “writer” and “author,” those labels have lost much meaning. In the interim, the minority of wordies, i.e. noble writers, individuals of the ilk that most of us esteemed in school, don’t spend their stores countering this transformed use of the media - they are too busy writing solid works. Consequently, writers, too, are responsible for the state of the status quo.
Interestingly, readers have changed the least. Other than wanting their entertainment and information served in quick and easy-to-digest packets, readers continue to dislike bosh disguised as treasure, yet continue to willingly pay sizeable fees for insubstantial works that make them cry or smile. Humanity might be tired of hearing accusations of “fake news,” but we denizens still demand mindless content. To wit, countless copycat “creatives” make books based on headlines because countless copycat audiences insist on buying such reads. The blame for this mess can be shared with readers.
The nexus of publishers’, writers’, and readers’ agendas remains what it’s long been; money. Publishers pay for social media management and analytics tools like Hootsuite or Crimson Hexagon Review. Writers purchase apps like Pronoun or NovelRank. Readers insist that eBooks sell for less than a dollar, and, during select periods, be given away for free. The issue of which thoughts get broadcast, hence, has shifted from one of morality and social duty to one of how best to protect one’s dollars, euros, or yens. For the most part, word people, their producers, and their audiences reflect favorably or critically on Islam’s role in the world because doing so is to their material advantage.
Yesteryear’s pet rocks, Chia Pets, and arguments about abortion or gun control (the latter were outlawed topics for professors, who, like me, taught Public Speaking in the 1980s and 1990s) are, in some ways, akin to positions advanced today on: the legitimacy of Islam, responsibilities for refugees and limits to accepting them, and the Middle East conflict. Whereas it’s vital that we dialogue about incommensurabilities, simultaneously, it’s necessary that we do so for reasons beyond earnings.
I’m pretty sure that, going forward, I will keep coming across persons who embrace the topic of Islam for private gain. I’ll likely continue to stumble upon cases of scholars quoting me on that topic, too. Nonetheless, I’m equally certain that: publishers will persist on signing titles largely based on projected returns, writers will persist on looking for recognition rather than strive to improve the free market of ideas, and that readers will persist on tolerating claptrap as long as it is connected to popular themes, affordable, and easily browsed. Therefore, our culture will be communicating about Islam for a long time to come.