Award-winning author John Dale’s latest novel is a gripping, page-turner of a thriller by all accounts, but it won’t be in stores soon because his publisher has dumped the novel after booksellers and librarians said they wouldn’t carry it because the “baddie” was a Muslim terrorist.

John Dale

Dale, an Australian writer, was commissioned in March 2004 by Scholastic Australia, a leading children’s publisher to write a “tough, snappy thriller,” that would cause their young readers to “break out in sweats and their eyes to bulge without giving them actual nightmares.”

The result was “Army of the Pure,” a book Dale described to the Australian as a contemporary action adventure written to appeal to his own son, “a book he could not put down.”

The novel tells the story of four children pursued by Afghan terrorists after they discover a plot to blow up a nuclear reactor in a Sydney suburb.

Scholastic was pleased with the book, calling it a “gripping page-turner” and Dale’s writing “almost flawless.”

But that was before the marketing department had its say.

The company surveyed “a broad range of booksellers and library suppliers” about carrying the new book and were met with concerns over its featuring of a Muslim terrorist.

“They all said they would not stock it,” said Andrew Berkhut, Scholastic’s general manager, “and the reality is if the gatekeepers won’t support it, it can’t be published.”

The “gatekeepers,” however, had no problem with terrorists in two recent Australian bestsellers. Richard Flanagan’s “The Unknown Terrorist” and Andrew McGahan’s “Underground” portray terrorists as victims who were driven to violence by the West.

McGahan’s “Underground” has Muslims executed en masse or herded into ghettos as the war on terror twists Australia into an unrecognizable society.

Flanagan, who describes Jesus Christ as “history’s first … suicide bomber,” dedicated his book to David Hicks, an Australian currently detained at Guantanamo after being captured fighting with the Taliban.

In a 2004 documentary, Hicks’ father read excerpts of his son’s letters, written before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in which he said that he was training in Pakistan and Afghanistan to ensure “the Western-Jewish domination is finished, so we live under Muslim law again,” and warns his father to ignore “the Jews’ propaganda war machine.”

Dale’s not happy with any of the gatekeepers, his publisher included.

“There are no guns, no bad language, no sex, no drugs, no violence that is seen or on the page,” Dale told the Australian, “but because two characters are Arabic-speaking and the plot involves a mujahideen extremist group, Scholastic’s decision is based “100 percent (on) the Muslim issue.”

Scholastic’s decision was “disturbing because it’s the book’s content they are censoring,” he said.

“A gutless” publishing decision, added Lyn Tranter, Dale’s agent. “I am appalled that this is censorship by salesmen.”

In addition to being an author, Dale is director of the Center for New Writing at the University of Technology in New South Wales.

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