NEW YORK -- The unprecedented international furor over Salman Rushdie's controversial novel, "The Satanic Verses," continued unabated, forcing the author's Manhattan publisher to close because of bomb threats Friday, while the two biggest U.S. bookstore chains ordered the book removed from shelves, and Canada temporarily halted shipments at the border.
Rushdie's author wife, who is in hiding with him, canceled her own seven-city American book tour.
Iran, which set off the furor by putting a bounty on Rushdie's head, said it might retract its death threat if both the author and his publisher repent and apologize to Muslims throughout the world for the work, which many Muslims find blasphemous because of dream sequences involving the Prophet Mohammed.
Carefully Crafted Line
In what some Western analysts described as a carefully crafted government line designed to preserve Iran's tentative opening to the West, Iranian President Ali Khamenei told worshipers at Friday prayers at Tehran University, "This wretched man has no choice but to die because he has confronted a billion Muslims.
"Of course, he may repent and say, 'I made a blunder' and apologize to Muslims and the Imam (the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini). Then it is possible that the people may pardon him," Khamenei said.
In Britain, Rushdie, 41, remained in hiding and did not reply. He and his family have been under round-the-clock police protection since Khomeini, Iran's spiritual leader, called Tuesday for his assassination.
Outrage over Khomeini's statement continued Friday as the governments of West Germany and Spain condemned the Iranian campaign and Italy's Foreign Ministry said the death threats had aroused concern and worry.
Nevertheless, the threats had some of their desired effect. Publishers in West Germany, France, Greece and Turkey halted plans to issue translations of the book. The Canadian government launched an investigation to determine the validity of claims by enraged Muslims that the book violates a national ban on hate literature.
Executives of U.S. bookstore chains said concern for employee safety had overridden their desire to protect the Constitution's guarantees of free expression.
"Under these extraordinary circumstances, the safety of our employees and patrons must take precedence," said Leonard Riggio, chief executive of B. Dalton as he ordered the book not to be sold in the company's 800 B. Dalton stores, 250 Barnes and Noble stores and 200 supermarket outlets. "A foreign government has been able to hold hostage our sacred First Amendment principle."
Waldenbooks ordered its local managers to put the copies of the book out of public view and sell it only to customers asking for it.
The capitulation by governments and booksellers to Khomeini's threats brought an angry response in literary and diplomatic circles.
"So where does something like this stop?" asked Karen Kennerly, executive director of PEN, a U.S. chapter of the international writers organization. "It seems to us that this is having a genuine chilling effect."
"It was a mistake," said John F. Baker, editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly.
A senior State Department official acknowledged Friday that the U.S. response to Iran's threat has been deliberately restrained so as not to "fan the flames" and provoke terrorist acts.
"Obviously, . . . the suggestion that was made (by Khomeini) is abhorrent. It is outrageous. But I do not think it does a lot of good, if you are interested in suppressing terrorism, to fan the flames," the diplomat said.
Terrorism experts in the United States said it was not possible to predict what individuals might do, but that the chances were small that an organized attack would be mounted on an American publisher, or even Rushdie himself.
"This regime is brutal and has murdered lots of people. But the idea that Iran is going to send hit squads to the Europe and U.S. to assassinate people is ridiculous," said Shaul Bakhash, author of "The Reign of the Ayatollahs" and a professor at George Mason University in Virginia.
Meanwhile, booksellers across the country reported the few remaining copies of Rushdie's fanciful tale of myth and metamorphosis were snapped up within the last 24 hours.
"The higher the price on his head, the faster it sold," said the manager of a Waldenbooks branch in Mid-Manhattan, who sold all of her 50 copies in four hours Thursday. "One woman wanted to buy every copy I had for her friends."
'We're Sold Out'
"We're sold out, all copies. We've tried distributors all across the country," said Doug Dutton, owner of Dutton's bookstore in Brentwood, Calif., where Rushdie's wife, Marianne Wiggins, was scheduled to promote her own adventure novel, "John Dollar." The book is set in Colonial Burma after World War I.
The decision by Harper & Row to postpone her book tour was announced late Friday in New York.
"The safety of Miss Wiggins, our employees and the booksellers who would be hosting autographings and readings is of paramount importance at this time," said a company spokesman.
Asked how the author reacted, the spokesman added: "They (the Rushdies) are under lock and key. We have been trying to get in touch with them, but it is very difficult."
Concerns about safety caused Viking Press, his U.S. publisher, to shut the brown wooden front doors of its six-story building off Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Police stood alongside piles of blue wooden barricades in anticipation of a demonstration by the Islamic People's Movement, but only two protesters showed up.
An employee of an advertising agency that also occupies the building said its employees have been forced to leave the structure eight or nine times since December by bomb threats. The employee, who refused to give his name, said the threats disrupted work and caused strain among the agency's workers.
The book continued to spark protests in Iran, India and Pakistan. At least 50 people were hurt in fighting between Muslims and police, who used tear gas to dispel crowds in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. In the Pakistani cities of Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar, demonstrations against the book were largely peaceful.
Protesters expressed their anger at the killings by police of six Pakistanis during two days of rioting earlier in the week against the novel's publication.
In Tehran, tens of thousands of students marched, many carrying defaced pictures of Rushdie, who is a naturalized British citizen.
In an effort to defuse the incident, Nicholas Brown, the charge d'affaires at the British Embassy in Tehran, met with Iranian government officials and expressed London's concern at Khomeini's call for Rushdie's killing.
Rushdie's British-based publishers, Viking-Penguin, declined to respond to the ayatollah's remarks.
In Britain, which froze diplomatic relations with Iran on Thursday, the foreign office called for the 12 European Community nations to agree on a common response to the threats against the author.
Like its American counterparts, Canada's second-largest bookstore chain, Cole Bookstore Ltd., with 197 outlets, said Friday that the novel would not be available "in the interests of public safety." But W. H. Smith Canada Ltd., that country's largest bookseller with 250 stores, said it would continue selling Rushdie's novel since "to date" no Canadian laws had been broken.
Margaret Gillis, manager of Revenue Canada's prohibited importations unit, said that her office is required by law to review books once a "legitimate" complaint is lodged. "Ninety percent" of the books that come under review are believed to contain pornography, while the remainder usually are "Nazi material and that sort of thing," she said.
Three officials, including Gillis, will read the book to determine if it should be banned and the decision can be appealed in the courts.
With his threat, the ayatollah not only propelled a modestly selling book onto the best-seller lists but set up classic tension between personal security and U.S. constitutional freedoms.
"We have never pulled a book off our shelves," said B. Dalton's Riggio, voicing regret Friday over his company's decision to place employee safety first.
Gerry Dixon, a sales clerk at B. Dalton in Hollywood, said no one had been threatened at the store in connection with the book. But on Tuesday, he said "a man bought it, took it outside, shredded it and threw it to the winds."
Getlin reported from New York and Pristin from Los Angeles. Staff writers John Goldman and Karen Tumulty in New York, Robin Wright and Doyle McManus in Washington, and Dennis McDougal in Los Angeles contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times