AJC today sent the following letter to John Donatich, Director of the Yale University Press, regarding the Press' decision to censor illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad from a new book on influential cartoons.
Dear Mr. Donatich:
We write to express our dismay at Yale University Press' decision, as reported in the August 13 edition of the New York Times, to retreat from long-established principles of academic freedom by censoring illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad from Jytte Klausen's new book, The Cartoons That Shook the World. It is clear from Professor Klausen's comments that this censorship will detract substantially from her scholarship.
AJC has a proud history of advocating for and protecting religious freedom for over 100 years. We strive to display sensitivity toward and enhance understanding of all religions, including Islam. If given the opportunity to make the decision, we probably would not have recommended that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten print the original 12 cartoons.
Your decision to censor those images and any other images of the Prophet, however, reflects a new and dangerous standard. No matter how offensive any publication may be, intimidation must never be viewed as an acceptable means of responding to published ideas. To affirm this principle, AJC sent representatives to Denmark to show solidarity with the staff of Jyllands-Posten when they were physically threatened. In the same spirit, we encourage you not to engage in an act of self-censorship, placating those who would respond with violence to scholarship thatthey do not like.
Moreover, your decision conflicts with the stated mission of Yale University Press, as displayed on your website, to "[aid] in the discovery and dissemination of light and truth" by "publishing serious works that contribute to a global understanding of human affairs." There is no question that this censorship will diminish the "light and truth" of the scholarly work and tarnish Yale's distinguished reputation as a bastion of academic freedom.
We also wonder what may constitute the outer edge of the new academic freedom paradigm that your decision establishes. Should academic works be held up to a test of perceived intimidation, under which scholars would be prevented from publishing their work if a violent group may respond irrationally to it? In our view, your decision may simply have the effect of encouraging those who seek to stifle ideas by force.
We hope that there may still be time to reverse this decision, and to reaffirm Yale University Press' commitment tothe values of civil dialogue, intellectual inquiry and academic freedom.
Very truly yours,
Richard J. SidemanDavid A. Harris