The bad guys are winning. Intimidation and violence are little by little eroding the very essence of what free press is all about: the unimpeded flow of ideas that enrich and educate us all.
We all are losers when the power of taboos overwhelms the power of ideas. And that's exactly what has taken place at one of the United States' mort prestigious publishing houses, Yale Press.
Danish author Jytte Klausen, a college professor in the US, submitted a book titled "The Cartoons That Shook the World," to Yale Press about the consequences of the publication of the Muhammad cartoons by precisely a Danish newspaper in 2005. Back then, that decision ignited a rage storm throughout the Muslim world, cost the editors and cartoonist of the newspaper a fatwa that is still in effect, and left some 200 dead people in the ensuing protests.
Given the explosive nature of the subject, Yale Press decided to consult with several experts as to whether to publish the cartoons that unleashed the tragic controversy. The answer was no, not only the cartoons but also other items that have also triggered terrorist threats from Islamic quarters.
The book's author, Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., reluctantly accepted Yale University Press's decision not to publish the cartoons. But she was disturbed by the withdrawal of the other representations of Muhammad.
All of those images are widely available, Ms. Klausen said by telephone, adding that "Muslim friends, leaders and activists thought that the incident was misunderstood, so the cartoons needed to be reprinted so we could have a discussion about it." The book is due out in November.
The director of Yale Press, John Donatich, told the Times that the decision was "overwhelming and unanimous," that the cartoons are available for everyone on the Internet and that "when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question."
This is not the first time we mention how the long tentacles of religious censorship get to some of the most socially advanced countries in the world. What we see here again is the awesome power of intimidation and religious dogma, the corrosive influence of one people's taboo over other people's freedom to express themselves.
This is very dangerous. Yet once again, the words of Joergen Ejboel become most relevant. He is the chairman of the board of the non-profit group that owns Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's largest newspaper and the one that published the cartoons.
During WPFC's 2007 Andersen-Ottaway lecture, Ejboel said the following:
It's quite common these days to hear people say, of course I support free speech and the right to say what you want, but in the hands of the autocrats this "but" has become a very effective tool to curb free speech. And governments and all kinds of groups with their taboos can ally themselves with one another. If you respect my taboo I'll respect yours. If this continues long enough we will witness further limitations on speech, crimping free debate, creative journalism and exchange of information.
Ejboel's words are prophetic. He's been warning us all along from the front lines of press freedom. And this one more example is showing us we all are letting press freedom, even in the most unexpected places, become a caricature of itself.