Yale University Press was accused of cowardice and censorship yesterday after deciding not to reproduce cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in an academic book for fear of violent reprisals.
This year Yale will publish a scholarly work about reactions to the cartoons printed in a Danish newspaper in 2005, which sparked protests around the world.
But readers will not see the 12 cartoons that are the subject of the book, including one showing Muhammad with a turban like a bomb. In fact, they will not get to see any images of the prophet at all, not even a 19th-century sketch by Gustave Doré.
Yale has decided to publish The Cartoons that Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, without any likenesses of the Prophet but the howls of protest are all the louder for the fact that there have not been any threats of violence related to the book.
"'We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands'. That is effectively the new policy position at Yale University Press," Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors, wrote in an open letter.
Yale took its decision to self-censor after consulting two dozen experts, including counter-terrorism specialists and the highest-ranking Muslim official at the UN.
Yale says that the experts concluded that the book should omit the 12 Danish cartoons but also all illustrations of the Prophet. including an Ottoman print, a children's book illustration and the Dore sketch, which portrays Muhammad being tormented in hell in a scene from Dante's Inferno that has also inspired Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dali.
"You can count on violence if any illustration of the Prophet is published. It will cause riots, I predict, from Indonesia to Nigeria," Ibrahim Gambari, a top UN official, advised.
"My book is an academic book with footnotes and the notion that it would set off civil war in Nigeria is laughable," Ms Klausen told The Times.
"The university spooked itself." Jonathan Laurence, a Boston College professor and co-author of Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France, said he told the press it should reproduce the original Jyllands-Posten newspaper page that included the cartoon.
"I was consulted by the press about the decision whether or not to publish. I suggested that they publish the newspaper page in its entirety as documentary evidence of the episode being discussed," he told The Times. "I actually know another professor who was also consulted and also told them to go ahead, but do it in a responsible manner."
Ms Klausen, who is a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and author of the earlier The Islamic Challenge: Politics and Religion in Western Europe, argues in the book that the protests against the Danish cartoons were orchestrated by extremists seeking to destabilise several governments.
"Muslim friends, leaders and activists thought that the incident was misunderstood, so the cartoons needed to be reprinted so we could have a discussion about it," Ms Klausen told The New York Times.
She says that Yale is magnifying the problem and that her book has become part of "a battle over the limits of freedom of speech".
"The book's message is that we need to calm down and look at this carefully," she said.
Yale University Press said: "The Press would never have reached the decision it did on the grounds that some might be offended by portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad.
"The decision rested solely on the experts' assessments that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims."