The Friendly Atheist goes all HuffPo about Muslim Vikings

By now we’ve all heard of an announcement that a group at Uppsala University in Sweden found a Viking burial in which one dead Viking was wrapped in a cloth that was supposed to depict the word “Allah” in Arabic script (just Google “Viking burial Arabic”; one example is here.)  Although a peer-reviewed publication of that finding hasn’t yet appeared, it would seem that the cloth, if actually worn on a buried Viking, couldn’t simply be trade goods, but must denote something numinous.  Based on that, one of the Friendly Atheist‘s co-bloggers, David McAfee, wrote the following post (click on the screenshot to see the article), ripped from the pages of HuffPo.

 

Well, that’s what I call “jumping the gun”. First of all, there’s no evidence that the wearer was a Muslim. While there’s no doubt that Vikings had contact with the Muslim world, there’s no evidence beyond this garment—even if you take that as evidence of Arabic saying “Allah”—that any Vikings, much less the decedent—were Muslims. Further, the script, which is “square Kufic” rather than Arabic, appears to postdate the existence of the Vikings, so there’s a problem of the garment’s provenance. In fact, the find is deeply controversial, with some claiming that the script is based on an unwarranted extension of the existing pattern, not the pattern itself. Further, the word “Allah” is visible (if it does say “Allah”) only in a mirror reflection, and why is that?  As the Guardian reports:

However the finding has been disputed. In a blog post, textile archaeologist Carolyn Priest-Dorman suggest, from analysis of the weaving technique in the clothes, that the recognition of the Kufic inscriptions is “predicated on unfounded extensions of pattern, not on [the] existing pattern.”

In addition, Stephennie Mulder, Associate Professor of Islamic Art and Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, has suggested that the Viking burial finds pre-date the development of the Islamic artistic style Larsson claims to have identified.

Mulder, who has real expertise in this area, has produced a whole string of tweets debunking this as a Muslim garment that reads “Allah”. Here is the first of 60 tweets she issued:

You can find all Mulder’s tweets (now up to 63) compiled in this thread.  So far it looks like the association of this cloth with genuine Vikings is dubious, as the dates don’t comport, and one has to really stretch one’s mind to the point of confirmation bias to see the word “Allah.”

Now one might excuse the press for getting all worked up about this find, even though they didn’t check with the experts, because they love stuff like this. But it’s less excusable when a skeptic (and I assume McAfee is one, since he writes at Hemant’s site) falls for the same thing. And it’s still worse when you then claim that some Vikings were likely Muslims (note “likely”), and finally top off this dog’s breakfast with the cherry that it’s great because “white supremacists hate it.” His evidence for that is—wait for it—a couple of tweets.

Now it’s conceivable that if some Vikings were really Muslims it would anger white supremacists. But I don’t see why, since the Vikings would have to be more than just practicing Muslims to anger the alt-right: they’d have to be people of color—that is, genetic admixtures of Scandinavians and Middle Easterners. And I know of no evidence for that.

Well, we’ll see when the peer-reviewed article comes out, but it would behoove those at The Friendly Atheist to avoid this type of premature clickbait.

 

A fly with arachnid boots!

I was pleased to get this tw**t from Matthew showing a fly with boots. It looks like a housefly, and the pseudoscorpions are simply exhibiting phoresis: they’re hitching a ride to somewhere on the fly’s leg.  The “pseudoscorpion” page on Wikipedia notes that “pseudoscorpions often carry out phoresy, a form of commensalism in which one organism uses another for the purpose of transport.”

Now if he just had a phoretic cowboy hat!

From What’s That Bug?, here’s another pseudoscorpion committing Phoresis in the First Degree on the antenna of an ichneumon:

And, if you have €250, you can buy a phoretic pseudoscorpion in Baltic amber (no telling what it was riding on):

American University cancels “Unsafe Space” Title IX discussion on dubious grounds

I’ve written before about the Spiked website’s “Unsafe Space” tour, which is going around to various colleges discussing controversial issues. This is no Milo Yiannopoulos “Rile ‘Em Up” tour; rather, it has people like Wendy Kaminer, Jonathan Haidt, Nadine Strossen (past head of the ACLU), Steve Pinker, Laura Kipnis, Bret Weinstein, and Sarah Haider discussing issues like identity politics, the role of the Regressive Left in Trump’s election, and other issues that, while controversial, aren’t meant to incite demonstrations or violence. In fact, I have tickets to the November 6 presentation at Harvard with Kaminer, Pinker, Brendan O’Neill, and Robby Soave.

One of the panels was scheduled for September 28 at American University; here it is:

Note that the venue wasn’t American University (AU), but Reason Magazine. Why? Because, according to a post by participant Elizabeth Nolan Brown,  AU canceled the panel on the grounds that space wasn’t available because the panel was classified as a “meeting” rather than “event.” (That apparently hasn’t led to cancellations at AU before.) Brown thinks that the real reason, which seems likely, is that the AU branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) had organized a campaign titled “Keep Our Campus Safe”, which has its own Facebook page. The header gives its obvious intent (click on screenshot to go to the page)—NO DISCUSSION!

To their credit, the AAUW didn’t try to shut down the discussion, and called for counter-speech, but they also characterized the panel as “hate speech” and “violence” that could induce trauma (my emphasis):

The Unsafe Space Tour is coming to AU. What do they want to talk about? Completely revising and undoing decades of work by activists around campuses across the country to make campuses safer for victims of sexual violence.

So let’s show them what WE think of Title IX.

Come join AAUW at AU to show the Unsafe Space Tour that WE SUPPORT TITLE IX!

During the Q+A portion of the event, line up with us and let them know exactly how YOU feel about Title IX at AU.

. . . A note on First Amendment rights to free speech: AAUW at AU fully supports free speech. This does not mean we support forcing marginalized students to hate speech and other forms of violence and trauma.

That last bit is weaselly, because they say that this panel, and the “hate speech” that it was supposedly to purvey, is not free speech.  And, when the panel was moved, the AAUW site posted this, along with two comments from Annamarie Rienzi, affiliated with the student group, Young Americans for liberty, that hosted the event.


As we’ve discussed before, the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” revisions to Title IX are problematic, and certainly deserve discussion, as they’ve led to a horrible mess and mass confusion, about how sexual assaults and harassment on campuses are to be adjudicated. It is not “hate speech” to have such a discussion. But the AAUW clearly wasn’t interested in doing anything but harassing speakers during the Q&A (at least they weren’t going to “shut it down”). But then saying that they’re “STOKED” to announce that the discussion has been canceled (it was just moved) gives away their real motivation: to keep this discussion from taking place.

While Nolan Brown isn’t that interested in recrimination, and wants to discuss what the panel actually said, I am perturbed that a respectable academic women’s group wanted to drive this discussion away, apparently on the grounds that even questioning the revision of Title IX’s stipulations is “hate speech”—something that cannot be tolerated.

h/t: BJ

How Kirkus changed its review of American Heart after mob pressure

Yesterday I reported  that Kirkus, one of the three “biggie” reviewing services that vets books for libraries and readers before publication, had removed a prized star from one of its reviews: that of American Heart by Laura Moriarty (out January 2018).  It’s a “young adult” novel describing hypothetical America in which Muslims, as were many Japanese in World War II, are confined in internment camps, and how the protagonist (a white girl), originally in favor of those camps, changes her mind and helps a Muslim boy escape to Canada. It’s clearly an empathic, anti-nativism book meant to inspire thought and conversation.

After giving the book a “starred” review, which would boost sales, Kirkus was besieged by an online mob—many of them from the group YA Twitter that vets books for Leftist ideological purity—that was clearly enraged that the narrator was white. They accused Moriarity of penning a “white savior” novel, even though most of the critics could not have read the book. Moriarity described the incident on her Facebook page, and how Kirkus had put up a notice about why the star was removed. Here’s their notice:

It is a policy of Kirkus Reviews that books with diverse subject matter and protagonists are assigned to Own Voices reviewers—writers who can draw upon lived experience when evaluating texts. Our assignment of the review of American Heart was no exception to this rule and was reviewed by an observant Muslim person of color (facts shared with her permission). Our reviewer is an expert in children’s & YA literature and well-versed in the dangers of white savior narratives. She found that American Heart offers a useful warning about the direction we’re headed in as far as racial enmity is concerned.

The issue of diversity in children’s and teen literature is of paramount importance to Kirkus, and we appreciate the power language wields in discussion of the problems. As a result, we’ve removed the starred review from kirkus.com after determining that, while we believe our reviewer’s opinion is worthy and valid, some of the wording fell short of meeting our standards for clarity and sensitivity, and we failed to make the thoughtful edits our readers deserve. The editors are evaluating the review and will make a determination about correction or retraction after careful consideration in collaboration with the reviewer.

At Kirkus Reviews, we will continue to evaluate editorial solutions for better reflecting the expertise of our reviewers and their uniform appreciation for responsible portrayals of marginalized groups. We appreciate the discussion of these issues and celebrate the free exchange of opinions and ideas.

This is about as Authoritarian Leftist as a company can be—to the extent that they choose reviewers with the correct “lived experience” (why didn’t a Muslim woman of color have that “lived experience”?) And as for Kirkus‘s claim that “some of the wording fell short of meeting our standards for clarity and sensitivity,” well, based on what you can read below the clarity was fine—the problem was the “sensitivity”. That is, the reviewer failed to criticize the author for writing this book from a white girl’s point of view. It seems that Kirkus, which has substantial power to determine whether libraries buy a new book, and thus whether kids get to read it, is using ideological rather than literary standards to judge novels.

As Kirkus noted, the original starred review was written by “an observant Muslim person of color”—someone who could have dissed the book but instead awarded it a prized star on its merits. That wasn’t good enough. Kirkus removed the star and, as they admitted above, changed its review. Without having seen the original review, I guessed yesterday which sentence had been added to placate the Pecksniffs (see below). I was right, for Moriarty posted the original Kirkus review in a comment on this site yesterday. I reproduce the original and then the bowdlerized review below, putting in bold the sentences that were added after the star was removed. They are the ones you’d expect.

Original review:

Review Issue Date: November 1, 2017
Online Publish Date: October 10, 2017
Publisher:HarperTeen
Pages: 416
Price ( Hardcover ): $17.99
Price ( e-book ): $12.99
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-0-06-269410-2
ISBN ( e-book ): 978-0-06-269412-6
Category: Fiction

Starred Review

Fifteen-year-old Sarah Mary will do anything for her sensitive younger brother, but she never thought that would mean running from the law. The setting is the Midwestern United States; the time is the not-too-distant future. A Muslim registry is in effect, and Muslims are being bused to detention centers called “safety zones” en masse. This doesn’t bother Sarah Mary, a strong-minded, fiercely loyal, and protective teenager whose mother has abandoned her and her younger brother, Caleb, to their ultraconservative Christian aunt. (The whole family appears to be white.) Her indifference is forced to change when Caleb’s compassion for Sadaf, a Muslim in hiding, gets her involved in a plan to help this Iranian woman escape. Together, Sarah Mary and her new companion face extreme dangers, prejudices, disappointments—and unexpected kindnesses from their fellow Americans as they fight nearly impossible odds to get Sadaf through several states and over the border undetected. Moriarty creates a frighteningly believable setting of fear and violent nativism gone awry as she traces their journey to help Sadaf find the freedom she sought when she immigrated to the United States. By turns terrifying, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and touching, this book is so rich that the coincidences in the plot are easily forgiven. A moving portrait of an American girl discovering her society in crisis, desperate to show a disillusioned immigrant the true spirit of America. (Fiction. 13-18)

Review revised after mob takes issue; book data are the same, but the star was reemoved (changed or added bits bolded):

Fifteen-year-old Sarah Mary will do anything for her sensitive younger brother, but she never thought that would mean running from the law.

The setting is the Midwestern United States; the time is the not-too-distant future. A Muslim registry is in effect, and Muslims are being bused to detention centers called “safety zones” en masse. This doesn’t bother Sarah Mary, a strong-minded, fiercely loyal, and protective teenager whose mother has abandoned her and Caleb to their ultraconservative Christian aunt. Her indifference is forced to change when Caleb’s compassion for a Muslim in hiding gets her involved in a plan to help this Iranian woman escape. Together, Sarah Mary and her new companion face extreme dangers, prejudices, disappointments—and unexpected kindnesses from their fellow Americans as they fight nearly impossible odds to get her through several states and over the border undetected. Moriarty creates a frighteningly believable setting of fear and violent nativism gone awry as she traces their journey to help Sadaf find the freedom she sought when she immigrated to the United States. Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective worldbuilding device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter. Still, some will find value in the emotionally intense exploration of extremist “patriotic” ideology, the dangers of brainwashing and blind spots, and some of the components of our nation’s social fabric that threaten to destroy us, such as segregation, greed, mistrust, and mob mentalities.

A thought-provoking, chilling read with a controversial premise.

(Fiction. 13-18) (Ed. Note: The review of American Heart has been edited for clarity and to provide additional insights from the reviewer from its original appearance on kirkus.com, which was removed from the site with this statement.)

Note that the first bolded sentence is precisely the one that, I guessed, had caused the star to be removed. Then there’s the weaselly qualifier “still, some [presumably those who are ideologically untutored] will find value. . .” with the addition of all the implicit criticisms of the Trump administration. The original last sentence about the book being a “moving portrait” is now changed to “a thought-provoking, chilling read with a controversial premise.” Now that’s a library-buyer’s nightmare.

And really, Kirkus criticizes “mob mentalities”? Really? For it was a mob mentality that caused Kirkus to bow to social pressure, remove the star, and change its review.

Sadly, this hasn’t appeared on library and book sites, and it really should, for it’s a form of censorship based on conformity with Authoritarian Leftist culture. People should know that Kirkus is up to this kind of nonsense. The only place, in fact, that you’ll find any mention of this incident is on right-wing sites like The National Review, which reports this:

Struggling to grasp how this [plot] could possibly be offensive? Well, struggle no more. On Goodreads, reviewers take issue with the fact that Sarah-Mary decides to help. This, they argue, is reflective of an offensive “white savior” narrative by which Moriarty suggests that minorities such as Sadaf need someone white to save them. Here is the top-rated review, for example:

f*** your white savior narratives
f*** using marginalized characters as a plot device to teach the white mc [sic] how to be a decent person
f*** you for perpetuating the idea that marginalized people need to suffer in order to be worthy of “humanity”
f*** this book and everyone who thought it would be a good f***ing idea

Now it’s possible that the book is not sufficiently meritorious to deserve a star, at least according to the lights of objective readers (but few have read the book). But one person did—the reviewer—and yet she was overruled by a group who hadn’t read the book but didn’t like its ideology. It is that narrative, in which books are judged publicly by whether they conform to the Leftist mores of the moment, that I object to. And that is why books like Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are being censored (removing the word “nigger” and replacing it with “slave”, for instance), removed from curricula, or removed from school libraries. We face a future in which all new books must conform to a certain political viewpont to be worthy of approbation or review. And that will be a sad and sanitized culture, one in which books will not be controversial or inspire argument and thought.

 

Readers’ wildlife photos

We have a two-part post today. The first is not about wildlife, but about Hurricane Ophelia that is besieging the west coast of Ireland. Its effects are being felt all over the UK, though. Matthew reported that the skies in Manchester were dark and the sun looked red.  Here’s a report from London by reader Mark Jones, whose words are indented.

I thought you might like these. Yesterday Hurricane Ophelia dragged some Saharan dust up across the UK, giving some typical London scenes an eerie orange glow. I was visiting Hampstead in N London expecting the forecasted blue skies. Everyone was discombobulated!

This is Hampstead Heath (home of a great pub, the Spaniards Inn):

The stately home is Kenwood House on the north side of Hampstead Heath, dating originally from the early 17th century.

The Hampstead street is Streatley Place.

And Stephen Barnard of Idaho sent some “funny photos”. The descriptions are his:

1. Going green. [He apparently bought a Tesla.]

2. Experimenting with fish-eye photography. Spot the net.

3. Great Blue Heron [Ardea herodias] caught a vole. Natural selection.

4. Hitch with crazy eyes, mid shake after cooling off in the creek.

5. Check out this move, ladies! Sandhill cranes [Antigone canadensis]:

More boot weather

I rarely travel with cowboy boots as they’re a pain to take off at security and too large to fit into a small carry-on bag. So I wear them when I can, which is today. Here’s a pair of back cut American alligator boots (with calf shafts) by Lucchese. Note the alligator inlay on the shafts. These were also acquired on eBay.

To the right of the boot on the left (my right foot) you can see a copy of Eleven Days in AugustMatthew Cobb’s fine book on the liberation of Paris in 1944.

Tuesday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

It’s Tuesday, October 17, 2017, and promises to be a coolish but sunny day in Chicago. I am heading for Cambridge, Massachusetts tomorrow for a week, so posting will probably be light in the interim. I do my best.

It’s National Pasta Day, and there’s also a special Google Doodle today, celebrating the Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. It’s below, and click on the screenshot to go to a special Selena video. I I’ve never heard any of her songs, but I’m aware of her tremendous popularity (she was one of the best-selling Latin artists of all time), and of the fact that she was murdered—Corpus Christi, Texas on March 31, 1995, by an unscrupulous business manager. Selena was only 23 when she died. You can read more about her story, her music, and the Doodle + video, which took two years to produce, here. The occasion for the Doodle was the release of her first studio album on October 17, 1989.

On October 17, 1604,  Johannes Kepler observed a supernova in the constellation Ophiuchus  He wasn’t the first to see it, but observed and interpreted it, suggesting that, since new stars might appear, the Heavens were perhaps not fixed. On this day in 1814, the  Great London Beer Flood occurred when vats of beer erupted at the Meux and Company Brewery, sending a tsunami of beer down Tottenham Court Road and killing eight people. What a way to go! On this day in 1888, Thomas Edison filed a patent for the “Optical Phonograph”: the first form of movies. And in 1907, Marconi’s company began the first commercial transatlantic wireless service, sending messages between Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada and Clifden, Ireland. In 1931, Al Capone, already infected with syphillis, was convicted of income tax evasion; he was released in 1939 but, demented and very sick from his disease, died eight years later. Two years later, Albert Einstein moved to the U.S., where we have the best physicists. There’s no country in the world that has physicists as good as we do! Einstein made American great again! And on this day in 1979, the old grifter Mother Theresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for allowing thousands of Indians to suffer while being converted to Catholicism.

Notables born on October 17 include Nathaniel West (1903), Cozy Cole (1909), Arthur Miller (1915), Rita Hayworth (1918), Montgomery Clift (1920), Gary Puckett (1942), Wyclef Jean (1969), Eminem (1972; he’s 45 today!) and Ariel Levy (1974). What happens to a rapper who’s aged? Does he dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Here’s Wyclef Jean and Shakira in a terrific live performance of “Hips Don’t Lie“:

Notables who died on this day —imagine what a beating it is to write this list every day and see the decedents move closer and closer to my age!— René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur (1757), Frédéric Chopin (1849), Julia Ward Howe (1910), S. J. Perelman (1979), Tennessee Ernie Ford (1991), and Levi Stubbs (2008). Here’s Tennesee Ernie singing his most famous song (if you’re of a certain age, you’ll recognize who introduces him). Note that “Sixteen Tons” was written and first performed by Merle Travis.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili has taken over Andrzej’s chair, as she often does.

Hili: Don’t even think about it!
A: About what?
Hili: Throwing me off this chair.
In Polish:
Hili: Nawet o tym nie myśl!
Ja: O czym?
Hili: Żeby mnie wyrzucić z tego fotela.
Nearby, Leon is at the site of his future home, which still can’t be built as his staff can’t find a contractor willing to pour the foundation. It’s all very sad. Now Leon is scared of being shot:

Leon: Leon: Is hunting prohibited everywhere in the vicinity?

And a few tw**ts:

From Ziya Tong via Matthew Cobb:

And two tw**ts cribbed from Heather Hastie. 

Here’s someone laboriously making a model of Freddy Mercury:

And a baby wolf!

The smallest man in the world and his cat

As I noted this morning, it’s Global Cat Day, and here’s my contribution.

I’m not sure if this was verified (Guinness World Records) didn’t exist in that time, but in the late forties and mid-fifties, Henry Behrens (born about 1895) was touted as the world’s smallest man. A midget, he was 30 inches (0.81 meters) tall  and weighed 32 pounds (14.5 kg). Here’s a picture of him dancing with his black cat, and another with  his wife—and his black cat (can you spot it?):

Here’s a video of the man who called himself “Colonel Peewee”:

h/t: Laurie

A grand cosmological event: the collision of two neutron stars pumps up the physics community

Well, this astronomy/physics news is just in, and of course it’s above my pay grade, but at least I can refer you to articles in both the New York Times and CNN about a new discovery: the collision of two neutron stars, emitting both electromagnetic and gravity waves. The collision was detected in August, but was announced today.

What, you ask, is a neutron star? CNN says this:

Neutron stars are the smallest in the universe, with a diameter comparable to the size of a city like Chicago or Atlanta. They are the leftover remnants of supernovae. But they are incredibly dense, with masses bigger than that of our sun. So think of the sun, compressed into a major city. Now, think of two of them violently crashing into each other.

“This is more energy than has been released by the sun during its entire life, and this was released during just tens of seconds as the neutron stars (spiraled) together,” Piro said.

The New York Times notes that a teaspoon of neutron star weighs as much as Mount Everest! Can you imagine?

Now, why is this important? CNN again:

The collision [on August 17]created the first observed instance of a single source emitting ripples in space-time, known as gravitational waves, as well as light, which was released in the form of a two-second gamma ray burst. The collision also created heavy elements such as gold, platinum and lead, scattering them across the universe in a kilonova — similar to a supernova — after the initial fireball.

It is being hailed as the first known instance of multi-messenger astrophysics: one source in the universe emitting two kinds of waves, gravitational and electromagnetic.

News conferences were held around the world and a multitude of research papers were published Monday to detail the discovery, which was captured by space and Earth-based telescopes on August 17. These papers and conferences include representatives for the thousands of scientists, 70 observatories and gravitational wave detectors LIGO and Virgo that participated in one of the most-observed and -studied astronomical events of our time. One paper includes thousands of authors making up 35% of the global astronomy community.

And the NYT:

For the LIGO researchers, this is in some ways an even bigger bonanza than the original discovery. This is the first time they have discovered anything that regular astronomers could see and study. All of LIGO’s previous discoveries have involved colliding black holes, which are composed of empty tortured space-time — there is nothing for the eye or the telescope to see.

But neutron stars are full of stuff, matter packed at the density of Mount Everest in a teaspoon. When neutron stars slam together, all kinds of things burst out: gamma rays, X-rays, radio waves. Something for everyone who has a window on the sky.

“Joy for all,” said David Shoemaker, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is the spokesman for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

Kirkus retracts a starred review because of ideological impurity detected in a young adult book (long before it’s published)

Kirkus, along with Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist, are the three “biggie” pre-publication sites that can help make or break a book, for they issue reviews before a book is published, and orders for books are placed based on those reviews. Starred reviews (only one star is ever given) are particularly prized, as those are the books that these sites deem particularly good, and can boost sales. (I attribute the initial good sales of Why Evolution is True to stars given by the last two sites.)

Now, however, we have a case of one site, Kirkus, withdrawing a star it gave an upcoming book, American Heart (out January 2018), after the book was attacked for being ideologically impure. I’ve never heard of any of these sites withdrawing stars, though it may have happened without my knowledge; but this act is particularly invidious.

One account of what happened, and the only one I’ve seen, is by the author of the book, Laura Moriarity, on a public note on her Facebook page. The book itself clearly deals with sensitive material: detainment camps for Muslims. First, here’s Amazon’s summary of the book:

A powerful and thought-provoking YA debut from New York Times bestselling author Laura Moriarty.

Imagine a United States in which registries and detainment camps for Muslim-Americans are a reality.

Fifteen-year-old Sarah-Mary Williams of Hannibal, Missouri, lives in this world, and though she has strong opinions on almost everything, she isn’t concerned with the internments because she doesn’t know any Muslims. She assumes that everything she reads and sees in the news is true, and that these plans are better for everyone’s safety.

But when she happens upon Sadaf, a Muslim fugitive determined to reach freedom in Canada, Sarah-Mary at first believes she must turn her in. But Sadaf challenges Sarah-Mary’s perceptions of right and wrong, and instead Sarah-Mary decides, with growing conviction, to do all she can to help Sadaf escape.

The two set off on a desperate journey, hitchhiking through the heart of an America that is at times courageous and kind, but always full of tension

This is a counterfactual, of course, and clearly not anti-Muslim but designed to inspire both empathy and discussion. But even this scenario was enough to bring out the Pecksniffs. As Moriarity notes on her Facebook post (note that the reviewer that originally gave it a star was “an observant Muslim and a woman of color”):

. . . You may or may not have noticed, but even though the book isn’t due out until 1/30/18, it already has a very low rating on Goodreads. This is because a group, profiled in Kat Rosenfield’s “The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter” for Vulture, has been bombarding American Heart with one-star reviews because they don’t approve of the idea of the book and because they are assuming it is a white-savior narrative. (Actually the main character realizes, accurately, that she alone can’t save anyone, but you would only know that if you’d read the book.) Most of reviewers on Goodreads openly admit to not having read the book.

I was encouraged last week when Kirkus Reviews gave American Heart a starred review (starred as in ‘this is great!’ not one star like the mad people on Goodreads), calling it a “moving portrait of an American girl discovering her society in crisis, desperate to show a disillusioned immigrant the true spirit of America.” The Kirkus reviewer, an observant Muslim and a woman of color, called the book “sensible, thought-provoking, and touching . . and so rich that a few coincidences of plot are easily forgiven.” (Okay, okay, fine, I’ll take it.)

As one may have predicted, the book’s very vocal critics (again, this group is made up almost entirely of people who have not read the book) were outraged by the starred review. That’s fine. That’s their right to free speech. What has both surprised and disturbed me, and what I think would be surprising and disturbing to anyone concerned about censorship and free speech, was that this morning, Kirkus announced it was retracting American Heart’s starred review.

Here’s Kirkus’s announcement:

A Note from the Editor in Chief

It is a policy of Kirkus Reviews that books with diverse subject matter and protagonists are assigned to Own Voices reviewers—writers who can draw upon lived experience when evaluating texts. Our assignment of the review of American Heart was no exception to this rule and was reviewed by an observant Muslim person of color (facts shared with her permission). Our reviewer is an expert in children’s & YA literature and well-versed in the dangers of white savior narratives. She found that American Heart offers a useful warning about the direction we’re headed in as far as racial enmity is concerned.

The issue of diversity in children’s and teen literature is of paramount importance to Kirkus, and we appreciate the power language wields in discussion of the problems. As a result, we’ve removed the starred review from kirkus.com after determining that, while we believe our reviewer’s opinion is worthy and valid, some of the wording fell short of meeting our standards for clarity and sensitivity, and we failed to make the thoughtful edits our readers deserve. The editors are evaluating the review and will make a determination about correction or retraction after careful consideration in collaboration with the reviewer.

At Kirkus Reviews, we will continue to evaluate editorial solutions for better reflecting the expertise of our reviewers and their uniform appreciation for responsible portrayals of marginalized groups. We appreciate the discussion of these issues and celebrate the free exchange of opinions and ideas.

This issue of “wording” in the review makes no sense to me except as a reaction to a lot of flak Kirkus was getting from someone. What in fact seems to be the case is that the book was written from the wrong point of view: that of a white protagonist. This is supported by the sentence in the review which I believe has been added at the same time the star was removed (my emphasis):

 Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective world-building device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter. Still, some will find value in the emotionally intense exploration of extremist “patriotic” ideology, the dangers of brainwashing and blind spots, and some of the components of our nation’s social fabric that threaten to destroy us, such as segregation, greed, mistrust, and mob mentalities.

Remember, the mob who bullied Kirkus into removing the star almost certainly hadn’t read the book, because it isn’t out yet, and the only way you could read it would be in the galley proofs whose issuance is carefully controlled by the publisher. What we have, I strongly suspect, is another baying mob trying to shut down a book without really knowing what it says. (Moriarity claims that the “white savior narrative” is completely bogus.) But that’s okay, for a non-Muslim protagonist is all that’s needed to touch off such a fracas. Never mind that an “observant Muslim woman of color” was the reviewer.

Moriarity makes a final comment:

I know there are many things to be outraged about right now. But Kat Rosenfield’s article, referenced above, shows that what is happening to American Heart is not an isolated incident, and that one dystopia currently in play is that books for young people are being suppressed based on a political group’s interpretation of whether or not the *idea* of a book falls in line with their narrow guideline of what is “acceptable” for young readers.

Finally, it’s not the Right who is causing this kind of suppression (I won’t call it “censorship, but it comes close). Guess who? People like Liz Phipps Soreio, the Seuss-censoring Cambridge librarian. Below is how Rosenfield characterizes the group YA Twitter, which tried to shut down the book The Black Witch:

YA Twitter, which regularly identifies and denounces books for being problematic (an all-purpose umbrella term for describing texts that engage improperly with race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other marginalizations). Led by a group of influential authors who pull no punches when it comes to calling out their colleagues’ work, and amplified by tens of thousands of teen and young-adult followers for whom online activism is second nature, the campaigns to keep offensive books off shelves are a regular feature in a community that’s as passionate about social justice as it is about reading. And while not every callout escalates into a full-scale dragging, in the case of The Black Witch — a book by a newcomer with a minimal presence online — the backlash was immediate and intense.

Based almost solely on Sinyard’s opinion, the novel became the object of sustained, aggressive opposition in the weeks leading up its release. Its publisher, Harlequin Teen, was bombarded with angry emails demanding they pull the book. The Black Witch’s Goodreads rating dropped to an abysmal 1.71 thanks to a mass coordinated campaign of one-star reviews, mostly from people who admitted to not having read it. Twitter threads damning the novel made the rounds, while a Tumblr post instructing users to “be an ally” and signal boost the outrage racked up nearly 6,000 notes. Sinyard kept a running tally of her review’s circulation; “11,714 views on my review of THE BLACK WITCH and .@HarlequinTEEN and .@laurieannforest have not commented,” she tweeted. (That number eventually swelled to 20,000.)

Yes, the Left can do anything legal it wants, and has a right to object to a book and its rating by Kirkus. But it shouldn’t be holding books to such purity tests, nor should Leftists be objecting to books that they haven’t read. And Kirkus shouldn’t be bowing to public pressure when evaluating such a book. After all, who would be the most captious reviewer of Moriarity’s book? A practicing Muslim woman of color! Yet it was such a woman who gave American Heart a star—the star that was later removed when the thugs appeared.