Julie Burchill’s book deal with Hachette has been cancelled after she was accused of making Islamophobic comments towards a fellow journalist.
The forthcoming book by the controversial Sunday Telegraph columnist, titled Welcome to the Woke Trials: How #Identity Killed Progressive Politics, was due to be published by the Hachette division Little, Brown next spring.
However, on Sunday 13 December Burchill began tweeting at journalist and writer Ash Sarkar after she criticised Rod Liddle for a 2012 Spectator article, in which he claimed to have chosen against a career as a teacher because he feared he would become a sex offender.
“The only thing stopping me from being a teacher was that I could not remotely conceive of not trying to shag the kids,” Liddle wrote. “We’re talking secondary level here, by the way – and even then I don’t think I’d have dabbled much below year ten, as it is now called.”
“It’s astonishing that both he and his editor thought guffawing about hypothetically being a paedophile made for a good article,” Sarkar commented.
Burchill responded to Sarkar’s criticism of Liddle, writing: “Can you please remind me of the age of the Prophet Mohammad’s first wife? Thank you in anticipation!”
Sarkar, who is Muslim, responded by quote-tweeting Burchill’s comment, writing: “Julie Burchill, who once I suppose was a well-regarded journalist, has quite openly subjected me to Islamophobia on here. I’m a big girl – it’s not going to upset me – but I do find it strange that none of her colleagues or friends in the industry seems to have a problem with it.
“I just wonder if there’s some code of conduct at the Sunday Telegraph which would mean that outright racism – for instance, falsely accusing me of ‘worshipping a paedophile’ – was a bit of a no-no.”
Sarkar went on to tag the publication’s editor Allistair Heath, writing: “@AllistairHeath, could you elaborate?”
On Tuesday 15 December, Burchill posted on Facebook that her book contract had been cancelled.
“Reason was ‘hate speech’ to Ash Sarkar and ‘crossing a line’ – There was also a concern that the line might be crossed again during the promotion of the book,” she added.
Journalist and author Owen Jones condemned Burchill’s comments in a Twitter post, reading: “After subjecting @AyoCaesar to Islamophobic bile, Julie Burchill’s book contract has been cancelled. She’s already bragging about becoming a ‘cause celebre.'”
He added: “Burchill’s book hasn’t been banned. A publisher has decided it doesn’t want to publish a book by someone who has been gratuitously racist. No one is banning Burchill from speaking about it either, as she begins her ‘I’M BEING SILENCED!’ grand media tour.”
Addressing the controversy, Sarkar told The Independent: “I was appalled by Julie Burchill's comments when I first read them, and it was quite upsetting to see that it's not the first time she's made derogatory insinuations about my faith.
“There've been all sorts of hateful comments from others that have followed, and I don't think it's right that ethnic and religious minorities are subject to this kind of abuse just for putting their head above the parapet and offering an opinion. I'm discussing my options for further action with my lawyers.”
A spokesperson for Little, Brown has since issued a statement to The Independent, reading: “We will no longer be publishing Julie Burchill’s book. This is not a decision we have taken lightly. We believe passionately in freedom of speech at Little, Brown and we have always published authors with controversial or challenging perspectives – and we will continue to do so."
It continues: “While there is no legal definition of hate speech in the UK, we believe that Julie’s comments on Islam are not defensible from a moral or intellectual standpoint, that they crossed a line with regard to race and religion, and that her book has now become inextricably linked with those views.”
The Bookseller quoted Charlie King, managing director at Little, Brown (a division of Hachette) branding Burchill's comments as “deplorable”.