Yale University Press is set to publish a new book on the 2005 controversy over the publication of 12 cartoons in a Danish newspaper that satirically depicted the Prophet Muhammad. However, the New York Times reports today that the book, titled The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University, will lack one important element: the cartoons themselves.
According to the story in today's Arts section, the university
consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What's more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children's book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante's "Inferno" that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí.
It is understandable that Yale would be afraid. When a Danish paper originally ran the cartoons, the result was a spate of bloody riots around the world that resulted in the loss of at least 200 lives. But rather than merely own up to a decision dictated by fear of terrorism, Yale tried to couch their cowardice in more defensible terms. After all, said John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, the cartoons are freely available on the Internet, which makes their publication "gratuitous." But would they omit illustrations from any other book simply because the images might be available elsewhere?
As Yale had already decided to publish a book about the incident, does it seem a mite silly not to include the pictures around which the whole story revolved? Author Reza Aslan, a religious scholar who had contributed a supportive blurb for the book, thinks so. "Not to include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic," said Aslan, who also asked, "What kind of publishing house doesn't publish something that annoys some people?"
Interestingly, author Klausen said Yale insisted that she could read a 14-page summary of the consultants' recommendations "only if she signed a confidentiality agreement that forbade her from talking about them." Klausen told the Times, "I perceive it to be a gag order," and rightly declined to sign.
Allowing fundamentalist Muslims to silence their critics again over this story is especially ironic since Klausen's book takes the view that the "cartoon protests were not spontaneous but rather orchestrated demonstrations by extremists in Denmark and Egypt who were trying to influence elections there and by others hoping to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya and Nigeria. The cartoons, she maintained, were a pretext, a way to mobilize dissent in the Muslim world."
For a major university and a prestigious publishing house to bow to the dictates of Islamist murderers and those "diplomats" and "scholars" who believe in appeasing Islamism sets a new standard for Ivy League political correctness. But the rot goes deeper than that. Those who worry about a Europe where any criticism of Islamist extremism is treated as "Islamophobia" and racism should worry about the beachhead that school of thought has established in New Haven and other citadels of academia. A Western culture that is willing to censor scholarly work so as to avoid upsetting irrational extremists in the Arab and Muslim world is in serious danger of losing the will to defend itself.