Nearly four years after rampaging mobs unleashed murder and mayhem to protest the publication of "offensive" cartoons of the prophet Mohammad, some still flinch when freedom of expression is threatened.
Yale University Press is about to publish "The Cartoons That Shook the World," a scholarly book about sketches published in a Danish paper that sparked an international uproar (albeit months after they'd first appeared).
But after consulting what it says were two dozen experts, the publishing house decided that not only would the offending cartoons not appear in the book, but all renditions of Mohammad -- including a classic sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Dore -- would be banned.
Reza Aslan, a religion scholar and expert on Islam, withdrew his blurb from the book in protest at the publisher's decision. He told The New York Times, "It's not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary." Indeed, he added, it's "frankly, idiotic."
The author, Prof. Jytte Klausen of Brandeis University, reluctantly agreed not to include the cartoons, even though her book is meant to be a definitive account of the controversy. But she's said to be disturbed over the decision to ban all the other images, as well.
Adding insult to injury, the Yale Press's director, John Donatich, only allowed Klausen to read a summary of the experts' recommendations if she signed a gag order that barred her from discussing them.
So much for academic freedom.
In fact, some of those recommendations were absolutely ludicrous: Ibrahim Gambari, a special adviser to the UN secretary-general, flatly predicted "riots . . . from Indonesia to Nigeria" if "any illustration of the prophet is published."
Actually, if any protests do materialize, it might be because Klausen demonstrates that the riots were not the "spontaneous rage" of truly offended Muslims, but rather a cynical orchestration by Islamists trying to mobilize dissent in the Muslim world.
At the time, too many governments and universities kowtowed to the raging mob.
That Yale University Press has surrendered to mobs that don't even exist is not just cowardly, it's shameful.