Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard appeared at the Master's House at Yale's Branford College (Yale has a system of residential colleges akin to that of Oxford and Cambridge Universities) October 1st. Accompanying him in the International Free Press Society contingent were Lars Hedegaard, Paul Belien, and Bjorn Larsen and, by invitation, Rabbi Jon Hausman.
Security was tight at Yale allegedly because of the appearance of the controversial Danish Cartoonist who penned the Mohammed cartoon-the one with Mohammed attired in a Turban shaped like a bomb. After all, Yale didn't want its students threatened with violence by the appearance of 73 year old Westergaard attired in his 'rouge et noir' costume. Westergaard and Hedegaard had caught up with Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen, author of "The Cartoons that Shook the World", for a discussion before the event began. Apparently she had met Westergaard during her research for the book. Klausen spoke at a separate event Thursday evening organized by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA). One item of interest was that Klausen had wanted to have the controversial cartoons printed in her book. Yale Press and Yale University convened a review panel that basically recommended not to include the controversial Mohammed cartoons for reasons of alleged legal liability and possible threats of violence. Klausen alleged that in order for her to find out the basis for the review panel's recommendation to Yale Press and Yale University, she would have had to sign a confidentiality agreement.
The Yale Daily News report on the Westergaard visit, "Cartoonist's visit causes stir," focused on the protests of Muslim Students and Alumni never revealing what Westergaard said at the Branford College Master's House event, eschewing why Master Stephen Smith brought Westergaard to the New Haven Campus, Freedom of Speech;
"We are here protesting what we think is a despicable act," Syed said.
Ghani also called for Smith's resignation, saying that inviting Westergaard to speak ran contrary to a master's mission of protecting the students.
"A master is entrusted with protecting the well-being of all Yale students and yet Smith gave a warm reception to a man racist toward members of the Yale community," she said.
But Smith defended the decision to invite Westergaard to speak on campus and called it "a teachable moment."
"At Yale, if we stand for anything, we stand for the free expression of ideas," Smith said.
Alumni voiced their opinions from afar, as well. Alumni Sharyar Aziz '74, a member of the Yale President's Council on International Activities, said he thought that having Westergaard on campus could give the wrong impression about Yale's attitude toward the Muslim world.
"I'm all for freedom of speech," he said. "But I'm deeply concerned that somehow an institution that has been so sensitive and so caring and so wonderful about the Muslim community in general and stuff that they've done in the Middle East, that somehow this event creates an adverse environment or adverse opinion of Yale's sensitivities."
Klausen at the YIISA event had a different view, as did some Yale alumni;
"I want to stress that, of course, the argument can be made that the cartoons are offensive," Klausen said. "It is very problematic in my view because it assumes that Muslims really did respond to the cartoons based on the notion that they are taboo or bad and lack the self-control to deal with that. My book contradicts that argument."
Meanwhile, the Yale Committee for a Free Press — a group of alumni decrying Yale's decision to remove the cartoons — sent a letter, postmarked on Oct. 1, to President Levin and the Corporation requesting that the Corporation ask the press to reprint the book with the cartoons added back.
"In a world where light and truth are under siege, the entire Yale community has a vital stake in preserving a free press," the letter, which was signed by 44 alumni, said.
To find out what happened at the Branford College Master's event, we interviewed Rabbi Hausman on what he encountered at Westergaard's Yale presentation.
Gordon: How tight was security at the Branford College Master's house?
Hausman: Security was extremely tight. I parked on Prospect Street directly across from Betts Hall. I counted 10 Yale University Police officers, including the Assistant Chief of Police for Yale University. All were pleasant people, but access was strictly controlled. No cars, as a general rule, were allowed through any of the 3 driveway entrances to Betts Hall. There was only once exception, the car which ferried Kurt Westergaard and a number of the officers of the IFPS. That car was searched with some sort of device to detect anomalies. Entry was restricted to those with Yale University IDs and who possessed tickets. There were other special security people inside the building who were not Yale University policemen.
There was a roped off area for protestors on the grounds of Betts Hall, but some distance from the facility. You could see the protestors from the front windows of the building. A newspaper photographer (too old to be a Yale student or reporter for the Yale Daily) was prevented from walking up to Betts Hall and had to remain at roadside.
Gordon: Did you encounter any difficulties gaining entry to the Branford College Master's House for the Westergaard Event?
Hausman: I received a personal invitation from a Vice President of IFPS and was told that my name would appear on a list to gain entry. I was stopped by a Yale Police officer; I identified myself, showed my driver's license and explained my situation. The officer asked that I remain with him until he could gain some clarity. A Sergeant came over and asked for my personal information as well. After a couple of phone calls by the officers, my name was on no list to which they had access. I place a phone call to Bjorn Larsen to inform him of the situation as the Westergaard entourage. Once the IFPS and Westergaard arrived, it took about 30 minutes to sort out my ability to enter the facility and attend the program. By the way, all electronic and recording devices were left with another security officer at a security station in Betts Hall.
Gordon: Who was in the International Free Press Society contingent with you?
Hausman: Bjorn Larsen, Lars Hedegaard, Paul Belien and the other people associated with the IFPS. There was one editor from the Yale University Press who met the contingent and Jytte Klausen.
Gordon: How many people were admitted to the ticketed event?
Hausman: I estimate there were 65 people in attendance…some professors, a number of undergraduate and graduate students.
Gordon: What did Branford College Master Stephen Smith say in his opening remarks?
Hausman: Professor Smith spoke about the unique opportunity that this presented to his students and those in attendance taking into account world events. He asked for respectful dialogue. He added that Mr. Westergaard would speak and participate in a Q & A session with those in attendance.
Gordon: What were the high points of Westergaard's presentation?
Hausman: Westergaard explained his professional background as a teacher and how he fell into the role of a satire cartoonist (I always find a person's personal narrative interesting). He explained what has led him to draw many different kinds of satire cartoons, the role of 9-11 and some of the activities amongst Danish Muslims, how this set of cartoons 'went viral' throughout the world and his surprise by it all, and the loss of his safety due to the physical threats that he has endured from specific quarters of the world since. He did mention that he is an old man and his time is short under the best of circumstances.
In a side conversation with me, he recalled a cartoon that upset people within the Danish Jewish community wherein he used the image of a Nazi soldier (one must remember that, as a child, Westergaard experienced and remembers the Nazi occupation of Denmark). Westergaard met with Denmark's Chief Rabbi Melchior, during which they discussed the reason for Jewish disapprobation and concern. Yet, never were any threats to Westergaard's life or liberty issued.
Gordon: What was the range of questions posed during the Q+A? What stood out in particular?
Hausman: The questions by student and professor were basically of the same nature. Did Westergaard feel any personal responsibility for the damage his cartoons caused amongst Muslims? Would he take responsibility for any of the physical harm that occurred in Muslim countries to minority Christian communities? Would he take responsibility for his actions? What could he possibly have thought would be the result of the publication of said cartoons? What could possibly have resulted when one takes the Prophet himself and castigates such a holy and the most important figure in Islam in such a manner? Surely there is free speech, but at what point must one weigh/you weigh the right to exercise that freedom with the damage that it may cause?
Interestingly, there was not one question that I heard which supported Mr. Westergaard's ability to draw without inhibition as satire is meant to be provocative. By way of trenchant wit, irony and sarcasm, satire is meant to expose a kernel of truth and/or folly as the drawer views a person, an event, the world writ large. Satire is meant to be critical and to discredit from the eye of the artist. A number of years ago, a Brooklyn art museum was the center of attention for a painting which was nothing more than a cross smeared with feces. If one had an issue with this particular piece, one could skip that 'wing' of the museum or not show one's patronage. However, I don't recall any threats of violence against the artist, the museum curator or the museum's physical plant.
Gordon: How would you characterize the audience at the Westergaard event?
Hausman: The crowd was hostile in an academic and emotional sense. There were a number of self-described Muslims. Those who did ask questions expressed displeasure with Westergaard's work. The questions from these people were repetitive. One person described himself as a mildly Evangelical Christian who lived for a number of years in a Muslim country working. Yet, he took what I call a dhimmi view in his question - how far can Westergaard go in his work before endangering Christians who live in Muslim countries? I found this to be the most disturbing question and attitude of all.
There was gentleman, who described himself as Muslim, who mentioned a New York Times article which he claimed connect "well-known Islamophobes Daniel Pipes and Geert Wilders to Mr. Westergaard's appearance." Lars Hedegaard, President of the IFPS, corrected this gentleman and remarked that neither Wilders nor Pipes were involved in any of the arrangements for Westergaard's appearance and probably did not even know of his presence in the US.
It was clear that no common ground would be found.
Gordon: Was there media present at the Westergaard event and any questions from them?
Hausman: There was one photographer stopped at the driveway entrance to Betts Hall. As I was talking with a number of Policeman on the lawn prior to my entry, there was one young woman (obviously a student) who sought comments from the Police regarding the security arrangements necessary for the event. She produced her Yale ID and a ticket, and was allowed to proceed to the Hall. I did not see her inside, however.
Gordon: What impressions did you form about the discourse at this Yale event?
Hausman: Honestly, I would not send my child to any school where there is such uniformity and conformity of thought and attitude. I was disappointed at the inability of those in attendance amongst the Yale community to place responsibility for the violence that has transpired on those who manifest such responsibility. Westergaard drew, but it was the Imams from Denmark who took those cartoons one year after publication and whipped up violent frenzies, destruction of Danish Embassies in the Muslim world, threats to the physical safety of Danish personnel, violence against indigenous Christian populations. Every questioner seemed to want to misplace blame.
Further, it is clear that the university suffers from the malaise of relativist truth and the multicultural ethic. There are no universal truths any longer. When I was in college, it seemed that the point of education at the university level was to use the subject matter under study to encourage independent, critical thinking. Today, all truths are equal. I abjure this notion.
In the final analysis, I believe that the university is lost.