The Times carries a story that is dispiriting and scandalous:
"Yale University Press was accused of cowardice and censorship yesterday after deciding not to reproduce cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in an academic book for fear of violent reprisals. This year Yale will publish a scholarly work about reactions to the cartoons printed in a Danish newspaper in 2005, which sparked protests around the world.
"But readers will not see the 12 cartoons that are the subject of the book, including one showing Muhammad with a turban like a bomb. In fact, they will not get to see any images of the prophet at all, not even a 19th-century sketch by Gustave Doré."
The book is called The Cartoons that Shook the World. It is written by Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis.
I've written a lot about the pernicious tendency of a debased form of liberalism that seeks to balance freedom of speech with the avoidance of offence. In summary, my view is that "the case for liberty has never been that it protects sensibilities. It is rather that by allowing people's beliefs to be scrutinised, criticised and — yes — insulted, bad ideas are more likely to be superseded by better ones."
But Yale's view goes beyond the fallacious notion that people's deeply held beliefs should be accorded respect. Yale is censoring a book by one of its authors explicitly because of the risk that some people would be violently enraged. As my friend Christopher Hitchens remarks: "The capitulation of Yale University Press to threats that hadn't even been made yet is the latest and perhaps the worst episode in the steady surrender to religious extremism—particularly Muslim religious extremism—that is spreading across our culture."
In my article from Index on Censorship (linked above) I defended the freedom of speech and assembly of a populist, loudmouthed right-wing politician, Geert Wilders. I took his side because the test of a free society is its difficult cases.
The case of The Cartoons that Shook the World is about a figure entirely unlike Geert Wilders. For Professor Klausen to have her scholarly works abridged by her own publisher shows how far liberty has retreated in the face of theocratic bigotry. What a publisher. And what a disgrace.