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This report is taken from PN Review 76, Volume 17 Number 2, November - December 1990.

Authors Take Sides? Grevel Lindop
Public controversies tend to degenerate rapidly into two-sided shouting-matches, conducted to a refrain of 'Which side are you on?' Those willing to take the risk of being in two or more minds about the argument over The Satanic Verses should read A Brief History of Blasphemy: Liberalism, Censorship and 'The Satanic Verses', a little book lately published by Richard Webster (available from the Orwell Press, Southwold, £3.95). Webster's sober and humane essay looks at the business in its historical context and shows it to be more complex, and far more embarrassing, than most of us had realized.

Glancing at recent times, Webster has some remarkable stories to tell. In 1967, it appears, Penguin published Massacre, a collection of drawings by Sine which included a number of blasphemous and anticlerical cartoons, some with sexual themes. Several booksellers complained to Allan Lane, whose response was to take a van to the warehouse, load up all remaining copies, remove and burn them. Ancient history? Perhaps. But in 1987, according to the trade press, Tim Waterstone decided that his chain of bookshops would not stock Jeremy Pascall's God: The Ultimate Autobiography on the grounds that Christians might find it offensive. In February 1990 the same Mr Waterstone was urging in the pages of The Independent on Sunday that The Satanic Verses be published in paperback, despite the offence it had caused to Muslims. Webster also recalls the public pressure (from Government, Monarchy and Church amongst other sources) that prevented Jens Jorgen Thorsen from ...


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