23 March 2006

"History of the World" under criticism

Here’s a new turn on the Prophet Mohammed cartoon controversy, right here on our doorstep. This time, ‘Crossword’ – a favourite bookshop of mine – and the West Bengal government seem to be involved. So, what’s cooking? Here’s what I know:

Apparently, ‘Crossword’ imports a consignment of ‘History of the World: Earliest Times to the Present Day’ – a 900-page book on world history from a US publisher – and happily sells it to its customers. The West Bengal government also buys a consignment from ‘Crossword’ and distributes it to school libraries as a reference book.

After thousands of copies of the book have been sold, somebody notices that, in a chapter on Islamic world (page 171 I’ve been told), there’s a black and white sketch of Prophet Mohammed. As reported by Reuters, “It shows a short and bearded Prophet, clad in a robe, is seen holding the venerated Black Stone and placing it in a cloth in the Kaaba in Mecca after Islam's central shrine had been cleared of idols and sanctified in the seventh century.”

The word spreads. Muslim leaders become angry. They protest. According to the Reuters report, Hasan Ahmed Imran, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Bengal, has risen to the occasion and said, “The sketch is in extremely bad taste and is blasphemous. The book should be immediately withdrawn from everywhere in the world and the guilty people must apologise.”

‘Crossword’ takes the book of its shelves and stops selling it in India. The West Bengal School Education Minister, Sri Kanti Biswas, also rallies around: “The books will not be used in any of the schools of Bengal and all of them will be taken off the shelves of libraries.” The Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fog Rasmussen, puts off his state visit to India.

For those interested, here’s a short narrative on the book:

History of the World: Earliest Times to the Present Day
Author: John Whitney Hall (Ed.)
Publisher: World Publishing
Format: Hardcover, 912 pages
Category: History, World

Overview (from www.BookCloseouts.com)
“This impressive publishing landmark traces the history of the world from the building of the pyramids by the ancient Egyptians to the war on terrorism in the twenty-first century. Vibrant prose brings to life each epoch in this majestic account of the story of mankind. History of the World is the skillful work of twenty-five renowned scholars, each an authority in his own field, who have joined under the editorial direction of noted historian John Whitney Hall to produce an awe-inspiring and original text nearly a million words in length.”

The book was probably first published in 1991, but I’m not sure of this fact.

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