Why is Yale hiding behind the decision of anonymous "experts" to defend its decision to pull all illustrations of Muhammad from Jytte Klausen's forthcoming book, The Cartoons that Shook the World? What does it have to hide? Who was behind the decision?
Yesterday's New York Times reported Yale University Press's (YUP) decision to pull both the Danish cartoons of Muhammad along with all other illustrations of him slated to appear in Klausen's book, which examines—remarkably—the very controversy the 12 cartoons sparked in 2006, five months after their publication in the Danish newspaper Jylland- Posten in September, 2005.
The Times said that YUP and Yale University "consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous" that no illustrations should appear. It quotes John Donatich, YUP's director, as saying the experts recommendation to withdraw all images of Muhammad was "overwhelming and unanimous."
Not only is Yale withholding the identity of the experts from the public; it refused to share them with Klausen herself. According to the Times, Klausen was told she could read a summary of the experts' opinions "only if she signed a confidentiality agreement that forbade her from talking about them." She refused and called it a "gag order."
A Yale spokeswoman added that some experts wished originally to keep their identities secret, although some "subsequently agreed to be identified."
The American Association of University Professors issued a strong statement condemning YUP. The first line sums up their opinion of what Yale's actions, in effect, say about its commitment to academic freedom: "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands." Inside Higher Ed, a web-based publication, today published a statement released by Yale (Update: complete statement here)--perhaps in response to the AAUP statement--defending its actions. Note the attempt to shift responsibility away from Yale and onto the backs of the experts:
As an institution deeply committed to free expression, we were inclined to publish the cartoons and other images as proposed. The original publication of the cartoons, however, was an occasion for violent incidents worldwide that resulted in over 200 deaths. Republication of them has repeatedly resulted in violent incidents, including as recently as 2008, some three years after their original publication and long after the images had been available on the Internet. These facts led us to consult extensively with experts in the intelligence, national security, law enforcement, and diplomatic fields, as well as leading scholars in Islamic studies and Middle East studies. All confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence, and nearly all advised that publishing other illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad in the context of this book about the Danish cartoon controversy raised similar risk. We recognize that inclusion of the cartoons would complement the book's text with a convenient visual reference for the reader, who otherwise would have to consult the Internet to view the images [emphasis added].
This statement smells of cowardice and compromise. We wanted to do the right thing, it claims, and publish the illustrations which, after all, are the subject of the book. But after we spoke to these experts (and you can't just ignore the advice of experts), we figured we'd skip out on our obligations to our author and readers and hide behind their advice, which we appreciate an awful lot.
It may also reveal an internal disagreement at Yale, with YUP personnel who favored inclusion of the illustrations overridden by higher administrators fearful of appearing insensitive to Muslims or being held responsible for any violence resulting from the publication of the cartoons.
If that's the case, let me invite anyone with access to the list to send it my way (firstname.lastname@example.org). Confidentiality—and satisfaction—guaranteed.