In the wake of a literary tempest, the author of a controversial new book about Islam came face to face with a man responsible for, in some critics' view, censoring her work.
The exchange came during the question and answer period following a Thursday evening talk by author Jytte Klausen, whose new book, "The Cartoons That Shook The World", was recently published by Yale University Press. The book analyzes the international controversy and violence that erupted in 2005 and 2006 after a Danish newspaper published cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic faith.
Another controversy was touched off earlier this year when those same images were not published.
Yale started a national debate this summer when it decided at the last minute to print Klausen's book without including reproductions of the Danish cartoons. The press said that it feared that the images could lead to violence, as they did when first published in Denmark. The choice to pull the images was made under the advice of a number of experts, including Joseph Cumming, who stood up on Thursday to defend his decision to redact the images.
Click the play arrow at the top of this story to watch the exchange.
Cumming, the director of the Reconciliation Program at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, said that publication of the images could incite violence that would pose a threat to the lives of Christians in Islamic countries like Pakistan and Nigeria.
Saying that she "profoundly" disagreed, Klausen argued the cartoons are not the real source of violence, that terrorists are in the business of committing violent acts, with or without cartoons.
Klausen's lecture was scheduled to begin at 7:45 p.m., but was delayed by an economics exam in the auditorium at 1 Prospect St., followed by a security sweep as two police dogs sniffed the area for danger. There was no security check of the dozens of audience members who filed into the lecture hall to take their seats.
The event, which was put on by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, was the second of two related talks on Thursday at Yale. Danish cartoonist, Dane Kurt Westergaard, who drew one of the offending cartoons, spoke at 4 p.m. at Branford College.
Klausen (pictured) began by explaining that she would not be lecturing about Yale's decision to remove the cartoons. Instead, she presented her analysis of underlying causes of the cartoon conflict.
"It was from the start, a diplomatic conflict," Klausen said. The conflict was never solely about the cartoons, she explained. The cartoons were tools used by political figures — including imams in Denmark, and members of Egyptian government — to stoke controversy for political gain, she said.
Klausen did not defend the cartoons, which she projected on a large screen for the audience to see. She said that the cartoonists' depictions of Mohammad were a deliberate provocation that fed into many Arab stereotypes and were part of a larger trend of negative press about Muslims in Denmark.
While her lecture had intentionally avoided the subject of Yale yanking the cartoons from her book, that was the main topic that audience members wanted to know about during the Q&A session. Taking a pragmatic stance, Klausen made it clear that she disagreed with Yale's decision to pull the images, but she said she was unwilling to take up "political activism" over the issue.
"Did you attempt to find another publisher for this book?" asked a woman who said she is an author with Yale University Press. She said Duke University is planning to publish the cartoons in a "protest volume."
"Well, I'm not interested in participating in protest," Klausen replied. "My purpose was never to have my book get sucked back into the same vortex that gave fuel to the original crisis."
"I really do not want to get engaged on political activism on this issue," she said. "My purpose is to have a calm and reasoned debate and I would like to try to do that despite the furor that has gone on."
A woman who identified herself as a scientist asked, "What do you think is the scientific value of your book without the cartoons? It's like to publish a scientific paper without data."
Acknowledging that the First Amendment does not apply to private institutions, Klausen said, "but there's a first amendment issue in this case in a different way, and that is that my readers have for sure been affected by this, and there is a harm."
Answering a different question, Klausen said, "Yale University panicked. I think my own data was used to justify the decision that it was too dangerous to publish the images."
"I became a chapter in my own book," she said. "I wish that it had been different."
Allan Canaan, a researcher at Yale, rose to ask a question, "When you publish a book, as the person who wrote it, this is your child. And you are willing to cripple it, knowing that those cartoons are important for the reader to relate to what you are saying … don't you see that this is a very negative development that academic freedom, a university's behavior, is dictated by fear?"
"If I had gone off in a huff and a puff and said, 'OK, I'm going to take my book under my arm, I'm going to walk out with my manuscript,' we would not be sitting here right now, that book would not have seen the daylight for another year or more and I would have been just another author looking for a publisher," Klausen responded.
Asked about the specifics of the decision-making process at Yale, Klausen said that she was not privy to it. "I can only really refer you to an interview in the Yale Daily News with John Negroponte, who was one of the first experts consulted," she said. She quoted Negroponte as suggesting that any violence provoked by the publication of the cartoons was likely to take place in places like Kabul, Afghanistan, rather than on the Yale campus.
"I had an instant image of raging mobs in the streets of Kabul, waving my book," Klausen joked, and the audience chuckled along with her.
Klausen's joke prompted Joseph Cumming to stand and speak out. He introduced himself as one of the experts who advised Yale not to publish the cartoons. "I'm thinking of people I know who were killed because of the publication of these cartoons," he said. "And I would appreciate if you would not laugh at those people and what they and their families have suffered."
Cumming later explained that he used to direct a humanitarian aid agency in North Africa where he had witnessed anti-Christian violence firsthand.
"Well nice to meet you," replied Klausen. "This is not a Muslim versus non-Muslim conflict, obviously I disagree profoundly with you."
"It wasn't actually the cartoons that killed people. Al Qaeda is in the bombing business," she said. "It's the bombing that comes first, it's the reasons that come second." The audience responded with a round of applause, concluding the talk.
On his way out of the auditorium, Cumming again talked about his advice to Yale that the images not be published. "I won't say with 100 percent certainty that there would have been a violent reaction" if the cartoons had been published, he said. "But it would not have been directed at Yale." It would have been directed at Christians and non-Christians living in places like Palestine, Nigeria, and Pakistan, he said.
"We have a right to put our own lives at risk," he said. "But it's irresponsible" to put others' at risk.