This editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last August makes the point nicely: The Jewel of Medina was cancelled even though there were no threats at the time, or protests of any sort, "from any actual Muslims." But Random House was afraid "some Muslim, somewhere, might be offended by the book," so they "told Ms. Jones to keep her [advance of] $100,000 - and her manuscript."
The editorial adds a little snidely: "This cowardice, this reluctance to stand up for free-speech rights against even the remote possibility of offending some Muslim with a rusty sword to wave, somewhere, certainly seems more European than American."
But whether it's European or American or the kind of thing they go in for on the smaller moons of Jupiter, it's a form of cowardice that we can well do without. We expect courage from our publishers. Of course, Random House was never under an obligation to accept Sherry Jones's novel in the first instance - that was purely a commercial decision - but things have reached a sad state when a major publishing house backs down because of fear that there will be reprisals when its chosen authors exercise their freedom of speech.
"As Neville Chamberlain proved at Munich," the Las Vegas Review-Journal's editorial concludes, "nothing more emboldens a would-be tyrant than to knuckle under to his whims and demands, rather than standing up and calling his bluff." Well, yes, but in this case there were not even any whims, demands, and bluffs involved. Nothing had happened except that one person who was sent an advance reading copy for a possible endorsement decided to raise an alarm about the possible consequences. That, of course, was not her role. Her role was to give an endorsement if she liked what she saw, or else to pass up the invitation in a dignified way - not to abuse her position by trying to sink the whole project.
Still, it was not her decision in the end, but that of the management of Random House, who gave in without so much as a single threat from a riled Islamist.
If you censor yourself, then who needs censorship?