A book slated to be published by the Yale University Press about violent controversy has stirred some academic controversy.
In Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen's "The Cartoons that Shook the World," an account of the polemic that ensued after a Danish newspaper published 12 caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, the cartoons in question the text are conspicuously absent. The Press declined to print the cartoons in the book at the advice of experts who said doing so might provoke violence, as the original publication of the cartoons in 2005 prompted riots that killed more than 200 people in the Middle East and Africa.
The decision was first reported in The New York Times on Thursday, and the University has come under harsh criticism in recent days from critics who say the banning of the cartoons — as well as several other images of Muhammad that were slated to appear in the book — amounts to censorship and an infringement upon academic freedom.
Reza Aslan, a religion expert and the author of "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam," was quoted in The Times calling the suppression of the images an example of "academic cowardice," and others in the academic community and in the media have seconded that complaint.
An editorial in The New York Post on Sunday called Yale "cowardly" and "shameful," and in a statement, the president of the American Association of University Professors, Cary Nelson, described Yale's decision as akin to prior restraint. "What is to stop publishers from suppressing an author's words if it appears they may offend religious fundamentalists or groups threatening violence?" he said. "We deplore this decision and its potential consequences."
The Press, for its part, released a statement defending its decision, citing the fact the University consulted experts including counterterrorism officials, foreign ambassadors from Muslim countries, the highest-level Muslim official at the United Nations and Islamic Studies scholars, and that they all voiced serious fears about provoking more violence.
"You can count on violence if any illustration of the Prophet is published," said Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Senior Adviser to the Secretary General, in the statement provided by the University. "It will cause riots I predict from Indonesia to Nigeria."
Yale professor Maria Inhorn, the chair of the Council on Middle East Studies, was quoted in the statement saying that the illustrations are "likely to provoke a violent outcry."
The director of the Press, John Donatich, told The Times that not only was the response regarding the images "overwhelming and unanimous," but that "when it came between [publishing the images] and blood on my hands, there was no question." The University also noted that The Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe declined to print the images in 2005, as did every major newspaper in the United Kingdom.
In the statement, the University defended its commitment to the freedom of speech. "The response to 'hate speech' on campus has always been the assertion that the appropriate response to hate speech is not suppression, but more speech, leading to a full airing of views," the statement said. "The Press would never have reached the decision it did on the grounds that some might be offended by portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad. … The decision rested solely on the experts' assessments that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims."
The statement said that Klausen agreed to remove the images "with reluctance." But Klausen herself told The Times that the Press overstepped their boundaries in removing — at the advice of the experts — all other illustrations of Muhammad, including an Ottoman print and an illustration from a version of Dante's "Inferno." She also said she was disturbed that Yale asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement before she would be able to read a summer of the recommendations from the experts Yale consulted, which she told the newspaper she perceived as a "gag order."
"The Cartoons that Shook the World" will be published in November.