Heavy security greeted two separate discussions at Yale University Thursday about cartoons depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, sparking local discussions about academic freedom, religious sensitivity and political manipulation.
Jytte Klausen, author of "The Cartoons that Shook the World" published by Yale University Press, spoke in the evening, while the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose image of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban set off violent reactions three years ago, was a guest of a Yale residential college master earlier in the day. The events were planned separately.
Klausen, a professor at Brandeis University, concluded in her book that rioting six months after Westergaard's cartoon and other caricatures of Muhammad were published in Denmark was a local issue that spun out of control, and not a spontaneous reaction of millions of Muslims.
She said complaints by four imams in Denmark over the artwork, who shopped around a dossier of the cartoons, ironically spreading the images they found blasphemous, was exploited by Egypt as a distraction to international pressure on that country to improve its human rights record. Egypt ultimately ignored its own call to the United Nations for a boycott of Denmark.
"It was an entirely misconstrued episode," Klausen said, with the political rhetoric picked up by al-Qaida and others.
Klausen said European Muslims did not welcome the exploitation of the event by Arab countries, and the attempt to use Europe's court to prosecute the matter as blasphemous came when those laws were viewed as antiquated.
Klausen's book, however, is better known because of the decision by Yale Press not to publish the cartoons she was analyzing in her scholarly work, a decision that brought considerable condemnation of the press on First Amendment grounds.
"I think the Yale University Press panicked," she told the audience.
Earlier in the day, a few dozen Yale students were roped off in a protest area, near Prospect Street and about 100 feet from the Greenberg Conference Center, where Westergaard was speaking.
None of those interviewed took issue with Westergaard's First Amendent right to create his cartoons, and some even thought the Yale Press should have published the cartoons in Klausen's book.
They were upset, however, with Branford College Master Stephen Smith's invitation to Westergaard to speak at a master's tea, generally low-key affairs often open to the public and held in the master's residential college home.
Because of the controversy surrounding the cartoons, the talk was moved to the larger site with very tight police security, limited mainly to Branford College residents, although 15 seats were held for Muslim students from throughout campus.
Salah Ahmed, 20, a junior, said free speech for Westergaard was a given, but not the invitation.
"Professor Smith is supposed to protect the students. Basically, by inviting a proven bigot, a proven hate monger, I don't know what the professor was trying to do. I think the only point of inviting him here was to offend people. ... Why are we encouraging hate speech? It doesn't make sense," Ahmed said.
Not everyone was offended by the cartoons or the invitation to Westergaard. "I don't understand what the big fuss is all about," said Gabriel Barcia, a sophomore at Yale. "I don't believe he was trying to encompass the entire Muslim population or the Muslim religion as a whole. I feel first it was just an opinion," Barcia said. "I don't think he was trying to send a hate message."
Aminah Zabhab, 19, another sophomore. said there was no reason to bring Westergaard to the campus. "That kind of turns Yale into an environment that is hostile to many Muslim students," she said.
Floyd Abrams, a visiting professor at Yale Law School, and a constitutional scholar, defended Smith's decision to bring Westergaard to the campus. "Exposing students to the widest range of views, including highly controversial ones, is precisely what a great university should do," he said in a statement issued by Yale.
Representatives of the Yale chaplain's office however, were upset with the decision.
"Although we recognize that a single faculty member may have the right to invite anyone he chooses to speak on campus, we find this situation highly exasperating, given the significant efforts by the university to make the campus a place that truly welcomes and embraces those of every religion," said Sharon Kugler and Omer Bajwa. Kugler is the university chaplain, while Bajwa, is the coordinator of Muslim life in her office.
"This event takes the focus off the most important facts: Yale is better off because of the contributions of its Muslim students, faculty and staff and the deepening understanding and appreciation of Islam," they said.