It's the controversy that never stops twisting ironies in synthetic wounds.
In November, Yale University is scheduled to publish The Cartoons that Shook the World, a book by Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University. It's about the backlash triggered by the 12 Muhammad cartoons that intentionally spoofed the Prophet Muhammad, and that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published with intentional provocation of its own.
When the cartoons were initially published in September 2005, some people protested, but it wasn't until the 57-nation Islamic Conference condemned the cartoons at its meeting in mecca that December that riots broke out and mobs rampaged Danish embassies and other Western properties in the Middle East and Africa. Some 200 people were killed in a wave of madness, in the name of the prophet no less, that dwarfed the follies surrounding the Rushdie affair over the Satanic Verses.
Some Muslims believe the prophet should never be depicted in pictures, and most Islamic art doesn't do so. The Koran does not ban the practice, and early and not-so-early Islamic history, as my colleague Austin Cline documents so well, is replete with images of the prophet.
At any rate, the Muhammad cartoons controversy was ripe for treatment in hardcovers by a thorough scholar. Jytte Klausen's previous book was The Challenge of Islam: Politics and Religion in Western Europe (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Her initial title for the cartoons book was "tentatively titled," as Klausen put it, tentatively titled, "The 12 Little Drawings that Shook the World: The Danish Cartoons and the Clash of Civilization," a title that appeared intentionally to put both the cartoons and their rabid critics in their place: they were little things, they were, some of them, in astounding bad taste, but some of them were not, and all of them were part of an exercise in provocative free expression that said more about Danish phobias (and subsequently Islam's arrested development) than anything about the prophet who can. all told, easily survive the fleeting darts of a few obscure Danish cartoonists. he certainly survived far more in the Arabian Peninsula's sands when he was alive.
In the event, Yale University Press did not go for the tentative title, which was itself a bit too sensational anyway: the bit about the "Clash of Civilizations" is too much, not to mentionoutmoded.
But the publishing house did something far worse than tinker with a title. It banned the 12 original cartoons from appearing in the book.
Yale says it consulted with authorities. Their unanimous judgment was not to run the cartoons, though they're freely and widely available all over the internet, including here.
What's more, The Times reported, those same authorities "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." Or reproduced by Austin Cline.
Needless to say, Jytte Klausen was disturbed. She ought to be. In Reza Aslan's words, "not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic." In Aslan's view,
no danger remains. "The controversy has died out now, anyone who wants to see them can see them," he said of the cartoons, noting that he has written and lectured extensively about the incident and shown the cartoons without any negative reaction. He added that none of the violence occurred in the United States: "There were people who were annoyed, and what kind of publishing house doesn't publish something that annoys some people?"Aslan, incidentally, the author of two excellent books: No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, and How to Win a Cosmic War, had contributed a supportive blurb to Klausen's book but withdrew it after Yale University Press' idiocy. I would boycott the book, but that would be unfair to Klausen, who is stuck with her censors.
"This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press," he continued. "There is no chance of this book having a global audience, let alone causing a global outcry." He added, "It's not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary."
Here, for what it's worth, is the complete set of Muhammad cartoons.