It has long been known that variant copies of the Koran exist, including some found in 1972 in a paper grave at Sa'na in Yemen, the subject of a cover story in the January 1999 Atlantic Monthly. Before the Yemeni authorities shut the door to Western scholars, two German academics, Gerhard R Puin and H C Graf von Bothmer, made 35,000 microfilm copies, which remain at the University of the Saarland. Many scholars believe that the German archive, which includes photocopies of manuscripts as old as 700 AD, will provide more evidence of variation in the Koran.
The history of the archive reads like an Islamic version of the Da Vinci Code. It is not clear why its existence was occulted for sixty years, or why it has come to light now, or when scholars will have free access to it.
Source: Asia Times
Even if scholars did have free access to this material, though, it's not clear how much would come of it:
Apart from the little group at the University of the Saarland and a handful of others, though, the Western Academy is loathe to go near the issue. In the United States, where Arab and Islamic Studies rely on funding from the Gulf States, an interest in Koranic criticism is a failsafe way to commit career suicide. ...
The Islamic world is forced to adopt an openly irrational stance, employing its power to intimidate scholars and frustrate the search for truth. It is impossible for Muslims to propose a dialogue with Western religions, as 38 Islamic scholars did in an October 13 letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders, and rule the subject of text criticism out of the discussion.
Precisely for this reason, Church leaders see little basis for a dialogue with Islam. Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, who directs the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, told the French daily La Croix, "Muslims do not accept discussion about the Koran, because they say it was written under the dictates of God. With such an absolutist interpretation, it's difficult to discuss the contents of the faith."
Throughout the Internet, Islamist sites denounce the work of a handful of marginalized scholars as evidence of a plot by Christian missionaries to sabotage Islam. What the Muslim world cannot conceal is its vulnerability and fear in the face of Koranic criticism. In the great battle for converts through the Global South, this may turn out to be a paralyzing disadvantage.
Even if the microfilm evidence doesn't point to the sort of conclusions which the so-called "revisionist" scholars argue for, it is still wrong if scholars in America are prevented — even implicitly — from working on the material and with the ideas because their financial backers would object. It's not genuine scholarship if it is dependent upon arriving at "safe" conclusions and pleasing monied religious interests. American colleges which allow foreign funders to define the direction of scholarship in any way have sold out both American academics and American students.
It's hardly surprising for believers to be taking an explicitly irrational stand. What other choice is there, given the context? Such believers only accept science and scholarship insofar as they support people's traditional beliefs. It's promoting and justifying one's religious ideology that is important, not facts and logic. If scholars and researchers need to be intimidated, threatened, and otherwise silenced in order to ensure that no uncomfortable truths are brought out into the light of day, then so be it.
Sadly, it is just such revision of people’s conception of the Qur'an which would benefit Islam in the long term. If believers could stop seeing the Qur'an as the unalterable and unquestionable Word of God and more like a human-created, human-edited text that might have been divinely inspire, then secularization and liberalization would probably be much easier throughout the Islamic world. Not everyone would be able to make the switch, of course, but you don't need everyone — just enough to make a difference in society.