The American Library Association has canceled a panel discussion on Islam planned for its annual conference over the weekend, after three speakers withdrew in protest at the inclusion of the fourth, a controversial critic of the Muslim religion.
The critic, Robert Spencer, who runs the blog site JihadWatch.org, told The Washington Times that he learned of the decision to cancel Sunday's panel - "Perspectives on Islam: Beyond the Stereotyping" - in an e-mail message Saturday morning from Myra Appel, the event organizer.
"With the withdrawal of three of the four panelists, we cannot provide a fair and equitable forum to explore the diversity of opinions that the panel would have offered," said Ms. Appel in a statement provided by ALA staff.
"The ALA and the other panelists have demonstrated cowardice and moral myopia," said Mr. Spencer, who has written eight books about Islam, including the New York Times 2006 best-seller, "The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion."
He said the other panelists had shown that "they cannot defend their views [about Islam] but rather must silence those whose views differ from their own."
Ms. Appel - who was traveling in Chicago for the ALA conference - did not respond to e-mail requests for an interview Sunday afternoon, and none of the three panelists who withdrew could be reached for comment.
In a statement announcing her withdrawal last week, Marcia Hermansen, a professor of Islamic studies at Loyola University Chicago, wrote that she had not been informed of the participation of Mr. Spencer until very recently.
"While I heartily endorse the principles of free expression and diversity of viewpoints that are part of the ALA mission, the way in which this information session about Islam and Muslims ... was modified and politicized at the last moment raises serious concerns about the integrity of the session," she said.
A second panelist, Dr. Alia Ammar, a clinical psychologist also at Loyola, told the ALA she had been given "blatant misinformation" about the session, adding that "the lack of professionalism with which this matter has been handled has been wholly disappointing."
The two statements were posted on the Web site of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which had written an open letter to the ALA urging it to rescind its invitation to Mr. Spencer. The letter called his Web site "a haven for the most vile and hateful of anti-Muslim innuendo."
"Would (the ALA) invite an anti-Semite to be on a panel aiming to dispel stereotypes against Jews?" asked CAIR Chicago chapter Executive Director Ahmed Rehab in an interview with The Times.
"I believe in his freedom to speak," he added of Mr. Spencer, saying the author regularly gives talks all over the country and CAIR does not try to stop him. "But why should a respectable organization, with connections to academic institutions ... invite an Islamaphobe who promotes stereotypes of Islam to a discussion aimed at dispelling [such] stereotypes?"
Mr. Spencer said he would welcome the chance to debate Mr. Rehab or any of the panelists who had withdrawn. "If what I am saying is so wrong, why will they not debate me in an open forum?" he asked.
But Mr. Rehab called such a discussion pointless. "He starts from the point of view that Islam is evil. I don't see the need to debate that."
Mr. Spencer challenged that interpretation of his views in an e-mail to The Times.
"Terrorists use the texts and teachings of Islam to make recruits among peaceful Muslims, and to justify their war against the United States and the West. I explore how they do it," he said.