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Shame on Yale University Press

August 14, 2009
Jytte Klausen

Jytte Klausen

What’s the point of living in a free society if leading intellectual and cultural institutions don’t have the guts to exercise freedom of expression?

Yale University Press has decided not to print the infamous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a new book about the controversy, The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University. According to The New York Times, Yale consulted with two dozen “diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous.”

These experts, Yale claims, not only warned against using the offending cartoons, which caused violent protests in the Muslim world 2005-2006, but also recommended the book not include any other images of the Prophet, such as an illustration from a children’s book, an Ottoman print, and a 19th century sketch by Auguste Dore — all of which have been widely published without furor.

“I regard the experts’ advice to the university as alarmist and misplaced,” Klausen told Fox News. She “reluctantly” agreed to excise the images, but told the Guardian newspaper she “fought every step of the way.”

One of the experts consulted by Yale, however, disputes the university’s story. According to the Guardian, Sheila Blair, professor of Islamic and Asian art at Norma Jean Calderwood University, says she “strongly urged” Yale to publish the Danish cartoons. To do otherwise, she said, “is to distort the historical record and to bow to the biased view of some modern zealots.”

John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, made the usual self-serving comments to the Times about how he has “never blinked” in publishing controversial materail, but “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”

Religion scholar and commentator Reza Aslan called Yale’s decisions “to me, frankly, idiotic.” The author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, he withdrew the blurb he had written praising Klausen’s book. “It’s not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary,” Reza told the Times.

Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, noted that Yale is “not responding to protests against the book,” but “anticipating them and making concessions beforehand.” In an open letter to the association’s members, Nelson deplored Yale’s decision and its “potential consequences” for academic freedom.

Yale’s effective new policy, Nelson writes, amounts to: “We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands.”

American institutions in general have not wreathed themselves in glory since a Danish newspaper commissioned 12 cartoonists to create images mocking the Prophet Muhammad, including one that depicted a bomb in his turban. Most U.S. newspapers deplored the threat to free speech, but without actually finding the courage to reprint the cartoons.

Compare that to the European response. As violent protests grew in 2005 and 2006, newspapers throughout Europe republished the cartoons. Even better, when a delegation of Muslim religious leaders and diplomats sought a meeting with Danish Prime Minster Anders Fogh Rasmussen, he declined to see them.

“I won’t meet with them because it is so crystal clear what principles Danish democracy is built upon that there is no reason to do so,” said Rasmussen.

Apparently the democratic principles America is based on are no longer quite so crystal clear. How sad is it when freedom of speech is more forcefully modeled and defended by a small European socialist nation than it is here in The Greatest Country on Earth?

Finally, if you want a good horse laugh, check out the Mission Statement for Yale University Press. As of today, it’s one of the funniest things on the Internet. “Lux et veritas,” indeed. Hoo-ha, good one.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tree Riesener permalink
    August 14, 2009 1:27 pm

    I am curious: What would Yale do if a scholar wrote an internet article about this subject under Yale’s auspices and included a hyperlink to the cartoons? Would they be afraid that that would also be actionable and therefore to be avoided? Where do we draw the line? If a writer, either in print or online, even refers to the cartoons, possibly mentions where they are to be found, would that be something to be feared? When we get right down to following this argument to its logical conclusion, would the fact that a scholar wrote about this be something to be feared? What if a sentence within the book is interpreted as disrespectful? Makes the whole argument against publishing the cartoons seem not very well thought through, doesn’t it?

  2. Connie permalink
    August 14, 2009 1:51 pm

    Glad you wrote about this, Chauncey…it just makes me shake my head at the decision to not include the cartoons that MOST shook the world in a book about, you know, cartoons that shook the world.

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