Terry Kelhawk’s ‘The Topkapi Secret’: Salman Rushdie II?


Is there irony in the fact that a press release touting writer Terry Kelhawk’s new and, quite possibly, subtly anti-Muslim novel, The Topkapi Secret, was lurking in my spam folder this morning?

Good thing I always scan the subject lines of my spam email before I delete them.

Story continues below.

The red-alert raising headline of press release makes it clear what Kelhawk, and no doubt her publisher, Prometheus Books, aims for people to be talking about in the run-up to the novel’s release on Sept. 21:



Yikes. Let’s dig in.

Story continues below.

According to the release, the novel follows “two researchers who seek out an early version of the Koran.”

And the website for the novel points out that “all except a few percent of Muslims around the world sincerely believe the Koran has never been changed — that it is the same now as it was at the time of Mohammed, and as it is in heaven.”

Story continues below.

The blurb goes on to assert that “Islamic and Western academic sources plainly show otherwise.” And that may be so.

But it also lends itself to a hysteria-seeking description of The Topkapi Secret as a “fourteen hundred year old cover-up” and the subsequently petrifying fact that “all who threaten this secret die.”

Story continues below.

Sigh. Maybe it would be best to start at the beginning — with the top graph of the release:

When first-time author Terry Kelhawk added the tag line, “What they learn about the Koran could change the world or cost them their lives,” to the cover of her novel, The Topkapi Secret, it was the novel’s protagonists she had in mind. But if some experts on radical Islam are right, it may be the author herself who should be looking over her shoulder.

Why? Because The Topkapi Secret is “already provoking debate among some who think it may be as objectionable to Muslims as The Davinci Code was to Christians.” (Let’s overlook the fact that Dan Brown’s novel is The Da Vinci Code, not The Davinci Code — spelling matters little when you’re selling books.)

What’s really going on, I suspect, is that Kelhawk is rather right-wing — a hawk, if you will. Google her: you’ll find some scribblings that could make you wonder if her real goal is to foment additional anti-Muslim hatred at a moment when our nation is already thoroughly infected with the disease. The idea, articulated on the novel’s website as well, that the book could build bridges with the Islamic world and culture is counter-intuitive, almost anticipatory marketing.

What’s more alarming still are these two graphs in the release, raising the specter of anti-Kelhawk violence:

Story continues below.

Shirin Taber, author of Muslims Next Door: Uncovering Myths And Creating Friendships, though supportive of Kelhawk’s right to express herself freely, is concerned about what may follow:

“The Topkapi Secret is not a book I’d write, and could quite possibly put [Kelhawk’s] life in grave danger for assertions made about the Koran… I respect her courage to use a novel to share her research and personal experiences with her readers.”

Notice the free-speech disclaimer — “supportive of Kelhawk’s right to express herself freely” — embedded in the fear. And notice how two graphs are followed by yet two more graphs that pile on:

Wafa Sultan, author of A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks Out Against the Evils of Islam, herself no stranger to controversy, agrees the dangers are real:

“To me, there is no greater virtue than risking your life to save others, and I salute Terry Kelhawk for taking that risk to make our world a better place,” Sultan said. “Pointing her finger to what the Quran is about is a noble job that should qualify her for a Nobel Prize.”

Let’s overlook the unfortunate nobel-Nobel play on words, and let’s further overlook the sheer absurdity of suggesting that Kelhawk join a class with Kipling, Tagore, France, Yeats, Shaw, Pirandello, O’Neill, Buck, Hess, Eliot, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus, Steinbeck, Sartre, Beckett, Naruda, Bellow, Singer, Marquez, Brodsky, Mahfouz, Morrison, Fo, Grass, Naipaul, Pinter and Lessing. (And who’s counting?).

And no, I haven’t read the book. I’d be willing to. I’d also be willing to retract my suspicions if I found no attempt to fire up anti-Islamic hatred. Either way, I still think an endorsement nominating Kelhawk for the Nobel Prize for Literature is lilding the gilly.

Story continues below.

So, will Kelhawk be the next Salman Rushdie, fatwa on her head?

Let’s hope not. I might be uncomfortable with her politics and I might be more uncomfortable with using history as a way to set the population boiling, but it’s right. Fortunately, I don’t worry about her, since she’s indefatigably brave:

“Sure, I’ve had warnings and threats,” Kelhawk says. “I knew there were risks when I wrote The Topkapi Secret because most Muslims think that the Koran has never been changed; whereas the book documents how the Koran actually has been changed. Still, the novel has strong Muslim characters in exciting situations and is full of good cultural details about the Middle East. So while some may be offended by The Topkapi Secret, others will enjoy it.”

Let’s hope they do.