Jytte Klausen, a Brandeis University political scientist, was wrong when she thought the heat had totally dissipated from the debate over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad when she wrote her book The Cartoons That Shook the World.
Her scholarly work, an examination of how 12 cartoons published in the Danish newspaper Jyllans-Posten in 2005 led to Muslim rioting and deadly violence, was to include a reproduction of the original newspaper page, as well as examples of earlier illustrations of the Prophet.
But her publisher, Yale University Press, has backed down from including the reproduction and illustrations in the book, saying its advisers have advised against it.
"I was stunned," Klausen told CBC's Q cultural affairs show Wednesday, speaking from Truro, N.S.
"If you are talking about training students to look at images, you have to be able to look."
The publisher has drawn criticism for its decision, and many in academic circles have accused it of cowardice.
Experts saw risk of violence
Yale University Press director John Donatich issued a statement saying the university polled security and counterterrorism officials and academics who study Islam, and most of the security experts agreed that reprinting the images involved a new risk of deadly violence.
But Klausen is doubtful her work, a footnoted treatise unlikely to reach more than a few thousand students, would be likely to prompt rioting.
"It's very problematic to have a highly placed expert in security matters make recommendations of what should or should not go into an academic book. I cannot recall a similar instance," said the Danish-born academic, who teaches at Brandeis in Boston.
She said the renewed controversy over use of images in her book says a lot about self-censorship among institutions and about fears in the West over what some Muslims are likely to do.
The original Danish cartoons are part of the collection of the Royal Danish Library and Klausen points out they are under embargo for 10 years. She has no right to reproduce them separately.
Among the most controversial of the cartoons was one of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. It has been widely reproduced.
A mixed bunch
"What I had the right to do was reproduce the page in the newspaper as it appeared that day in 2005 and it was very important to do that because most people have in fact not looked at it and … not noticed that the cartoons were a very mixed bunch — they did not all have the same message," she said.
Other images for The Cartoons That Shook The World were drawn from ancient Ottoman art collections and some images of the Prophet as a traveller were taken from Dante. Many are widely available, but none will be included in the book.
"I have to trust that I have managed to describe what I saw sufficiently for readers to understand my argument," said Klausen, who is going ahead with publication, with the conditions imposed by Yale University Press.
Klausen said she interviewed people involved in the original cartoons controversy, including Muslim leaders in Europe and members of the Egyptian government, before writing her book.
"One of the interesting aspects of this conflict was that the big demonstrations were about five or six months after the cartoons had been published. This has been a puzzle and I wanted to find out what happened in the interim period," she said.
Her conclusion was that what began as a diplomatic debate evolved into a movement against the West that had very little to do with the cartoons themselves. "What happened in the conflict was that the cartoons became wrapped up in other complaints," Klausen said.
"The cartoons acted as a catalyst for fantasies about the West, for political complaints about the West, somewhat similar to the way they now act as a catalyst for fantasies about Muslims and what Muslims will do."