A series of Islamic cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad have been declined for publication by Yale University Press.(1) The Ivy League school initially planned to include them in a book about how the cartoons incited violence from Muslim fanatics against the original publishers of the cartoons, which included one in a Danish newspaper four years ago.
Yale intended for the book and the inclusion of the cartoons to stimulate intellectual debate on why Muslims would be outraged by the depictions of their prophet. In Sunni Islam, orthodox sharia forbids the portrayal of Muhammad or other human or animal figures, while Shi'ite Islam allows the depiction of humans. There are several Persian paintings that exist that in fact portray Muhammad, such as the "Muhammad Received by the Four Archangels" one painted in 1436.(2) Of course, there is next to no criticism from most Muslims against these paintings, if they know of their existence. Islam believes the first commandment sets the precedence for their law, which forbids the making of images to be worshiped. There is nothing in the first commandment in Judeo-Christian law that forbids the making of images for decoration, such as paintings and other artwork.Criticism of Yale's withdrawal of these cartoons being published are out of fear, versus respect for Islam. It is entirely possible to write and publish a book without using the actual cartoons in the book, and merely describing them and the consequences of the publication from the Islamic community. Only Islamic extremists are opposed to these cartoons plus other images which represent Muhammad. Mainstream and lapsed Muslims do not give too much attention to such matters, especially is they are comfortable and secure with their faith in Islam.Yale alumnus Michael Steinberg accuses Yale of intellectual dishonesty in making the decision to withdraw the cartoons from the book, claiming that all the motion does it appease Islamic extremists. While such a motion may be of more concern in a nation like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, the publication of the book is taking place here in the United States, written by American intellectuals, not by Muslims who might be perceived as having an ax to grind, as Salman Rushdie was when he wrote and published "The Satanic Verses." The only one at fault is Yale University itself, for having consulted with the wrong people when the school's publishing sector asked for aid and research on the subject. Asking counter-terrorism experts, diplomats, and the Muslim official at the U.N. are probably not the best sources in acquiring information about publishing the cartoons in question, especially when Yale knew the responses would be biased heavily in favor of Islam. Yale is located in a nation where the freedom of speech is highly valued, not self censorship out of fear for what terrorists might do when the book containing the cartoons is published. Yale University Press has the final say in what they want to publish in the book on Islamic terrorism and its reaction to images of Muhammad in the western world.