Yale University Press has been accused of cowardice and self-censorship after deciding not to reproduce Danish cartoons of Mohammed in an academic book for fear of violent reprisals.
The publisher also removed all other images of the Islamic prophet, including artwork illustrating historical depictions of Mohammed in Ottoman and Persian art.
The Cartoons That Shook the World is “the first comprehensive investigation” of the violent protests which greeted the publication of cartoons of Mohammed in a Danish newspaper in 2005.
The book argues that the riots, which lasted for six months and led to dozens of deaths, were orchestrated by Islamic extremists.
Yale University Press said it took the decision to pull the illustrations after consulting experts on Islam and counterterrorism.
As well as leaving out the cartoons which enraged protestors across the Islamic world, it also decided to drop all illustrations of Mohammed.
These included an Ottoman print, an illustration from a children’s book, and a 19th Century sketch of a scene from Dante’s Inferno showing Mohammed in hell.
Ibrahim Gambari, a top UN official, told Yale: “You can count on violence if any illustration of the Prophet is published. It will cause riots, I predict, from Indonesia to Nigeria.”
The book’s author, Danish-born professor of politics Jytte Klausen, said: “My book is an academic book with footnotes and the notion that it would set off civil war in Nigeria is laughable.”
Prof Klausen argued for including the cartoons to help readers understand their impact.
“If we can’t look at them, how can we discuss this?” she asked.
Many academics have criticised Yale’s decision, including some of the Islam experts it consulted.
Professor Jonathan Laurence of Boston College said: “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.”
The president of the American Association of University Professors slammed Yale in an open letter.
Cary Nelson wrote: “They are not responding to protests against the book; they and a number of their consultants are anticipating them and making or recommending concessions beforehand.”
In a statement 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.”