Copenhagen/Stockholm - The decision by US publisher Random House not to publish a controversial book on the Prophet Mohammed for fear that it would offend Muslims has been criticized by one of the Danish cartoonists behind the Mohammed cartoons controversy. Kurt Westergaard, whose depiction of Mohammed wearing a turban in the shape of a stylized bomb provoked perhaps the most outrage, accused the major publisher of lack of courage.
"Unfortunately it is one of the big publishers that has now backed down, and that does not bode well," Westergaard told Danish news agency Ritzau on Tuesday.
Random House said it would not publish Jewel of Medina by US author Sherry Jones. The book centres on Mohammed's relationship with his favourite wife, Aisha.
The publisher cited advice from various sources that "it might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
Westergaard responded: "If they do not dare, then there are surely many other publishers that would not dare either. It is the large publishers that should lead the way."
Random House said it had returned the manuscript to Jones, who has the right to seek another publisher.
Renowned Indian-British author Salman Rushdie, who is under contract with Random House, has criticized the decision as self- censorship.
In an interview with a religious news programme on Swedish radio, Jones said Rushdie's statement on her behalf was "courageous."
She noted that Rushdie had lived in hiding for a decade after a death sentence was passed on him in 1989 by the late Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini for his novel, The Satanic Verses.
Jones said she disagreed with the assessment of Texas-based professor of Islam, Denise Spellberg, that her book was offensive and objected to it being likened to soft-porn.
"My book has no sex scenes," Jones said, adding she had "read at least 29 books by Western scholars as well as Muslim religious scholars" as part of her research.
"My book is fiction," she said, adding it explored "the domestic life of the Prophet Mohammed."
Jones described her work as a "feminist book," saying it aimed to depict the early days of Islam through the eyes of Aisha.
She said Mohammed "respected women, and gave women rights they had never had before."
Jones said that, although she had received "pretty insulting" mail, she had not been threatened. She has, however, shut down her blog.
"I do understand fear. I understand that we in the United States live in a culture of fear that began with the (September 2001) attacks on the World Trade Center," Jones said.
But the decision not to publish showed exaggerated fear, she said.
Westergaard, 73, has received threats. The cartoonist works for the Jyllands-Posten newspaper that published 12 cartoons in September 2005.
The cartoons sparked violent protests the next year and a boycott of Danish goods in several countries.
Leading Danish newspapers republished the cartoons in February this year after Danish security police announced they had thwarted a plot to kill Westergaard.
Two Tunisian nationals are facing deportation over the plot, and Westergaard has been under police protection. In a related development, a Belgrade-based publisher over the weekend said it would withdraw the translation of the Jewel of Medina following protests by the Islamic community and a Muslim party in Serbia.