When the furor over The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was at its peak in February, publishers predicted that houses would think twice before publishing other books that might be construed as critical of Islam. Now a Middle East scholar says, despite a publisher's denial, that he wonders if such caution led to the recent cancellation of his contract for a book about the Rushdie affair.
The scholar, Daniel Pipes, the director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, proposed a book that would explore why The Satanic Verses has prompted such intense reactions. In April, Basic Books, which had published one of Mr. Pipes's three books on the Middle East, sent him a contract for the book, which it planned to publish next spring.
In May, Mr. Pipes submitted the finished manuscript, titled "The Ayatollah, the Novelist and the West." Three weeks later, he received a phone call from Martin Kessler, the president and publisher of Basic Books, telling him that the contract was canceled. "He indicated he was not happy about the cancellation," Mr. Pipes said. "He said that while he had initial concerns about the commercial viability of the book, he had decided to go ahead with it, but that the corporate higher-ups had turned it down." Basic Books is a subsidiary of Harper & Row, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
Mr. Pipes said Harper & Row had allowed him to keep the advance and to place the manuscript elsewhere. "In that sense, I'm not an aggrieved author," he said. "But I'm appalled by the implications for general publishing." What added to his discomfort, he said, was that about that time, one of Mr. Murdoch's other publishing companies, William Collins Sons, canceled a book in Britain called The Rushdie File.
George Craig, the chief executive of Harper & Row and Collins, said Mr. Kessler made the decision alone to cancel the Pipes contract after Harper's marketing department convinced him the book would not be profitable. Mr. Craig said the decision to cancel The Rushdie File was made by the Collins managing director, also on commercial grounds. Mr. Kessler did not return telephone calls yesterday or Monday.
Mr. Craig denied that Harper & Row and Collins had any prohibition against books about Islam or the Rushdie incident.