Upon walking into the International Lounge for the event "Blasphemy, Censorship and Scholarship," I immediately noticed a table of blue hardcover books to my left. Their covers were blank, except for their title, The Cartoons That Shook the World, and a white thought bubble with Prof. Jytte Klausen's (POL) name in it. I couldn't help but think that the blank cover is fitting for the controversial book given the censorship it faced earlier this year.
The panel-based discussion with Prof. Klausen, Prof. Joseph Lumbard (NEJS) and Prof. Eileen McNamara (AMST) took place on Tuesday, Oct. 27. The panel focused on the controversy surrounding Klausen's book as well as Yale University Press' decision to censor the book. About 40 to 50 students and faculty were in attendance.
The book seeks to analyze the violence that surrounded the publication of several controversial cartoons that were published in 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Poste. The cartoons depicted the Muslim prophet Muhammad in a way that some people found derogatory. For example, one cartoon depicts the prophet Muhammad with a bomb on his head in the shape of a turban.
When Klausen brought the book to Yale for publication, they refused to publish the said cartoons for reasons of "security issues," according to Yale Press Director John Donatich. The censorship was so controversial because the republication of the cartoons was for academic purposes and analysis, not for political or ulterior motives.
Charlie Radin, director of communications at Brandeis and a former Boston Globe journalist, has been helping Klausen manage press and public relations surrounding the book. He opened the event by discussing the controversy surrounding the cartoons. He said that while they inspired little protest: "When they were published, virtually nothing happened."
Klausen described the cartoons' significance.
"The fire started in Denmark, then died out, then jumped to the Middle East and Pakistan, then back to Europe," she said of the protests that followed the publication of the cartoons.
Klausen added that the newspapers played a large role in the outrage, since they kept publishing the cartoons despite the violence they supposedly caused.
Klausen said she decided to write The Cartoons That Shook the World because she wanted to know why the cartoons caused such violence.
"My methodology was simple. I regarded this as a detective story and I had to follow the leads," she said.
She began by speaking to people on both sides of the situation, such as Muslim leaders and the cartoons' artists. Klausen pointed out that the cartoons did not affect all Muslims nor did all Danes agree with the paper's interpretations.
"Most Danes just shrugged their shoulders and said, 'This is a gag. Newspapers are at it again,'" she said. Klausen discussed how the cartoons became celebrities. "[The percentage of people who knew about the cartoons] rose to about 90 percent in Egypt and some countries in the Middle East and in Western Europe," she said. Many of these people, however, only knew about the cartoons and had not actually seen them.
In her book, Klausen argues that the cartoons weren't the sole factor in creating the outrage. "The aim was [for the complaint about the cartoons to the UN] to create a pushback against American foreign policy," said Klausen. This means that while the cartoons may have struck a nerve in a large amount of people, they were just a small factor in larger, deeper problems. "I sure wish I could've shown [the cartoons] to you," ended Klausen.
Radin mentioned that the cartoons are available on the Internet and asked, "Does [their Internet availability] make Yale's decision ridiculous?"
Radin said that in addition to removing the controversial cartoons, Yale also decided to delete all depictions of the prophet Muhammad from the book, even though the intent of the book was scholarly. Lumbard analyzed the original situation surrounding the cartoons through the eyes of a Muslim.
He called the intent of the cartoons and publication in the newspaper malicious but also said that the Muslim reaction was unjustified and inappropriate.
"[The violent reaction] was, in fact, completely contrary to traditional, Islamic teachings," he said.
However, Lumbard suggested that the cartoons are exemplary of how the United States misunderstands the love for Muhammad in Islam. He compared the depiction of Muhammad to an insult to one's mother.
While free speech should be respected, Lumbard said that people should still exhibit decency. Muslims felt that the cartoons were just a small part of the West's negative view toward Islam.
"My hope is that Professor Klausen's work can be some small step towards moving us toward an actual dialogue," he said of the United States and Muslim countries. Lumbard said that the protests were unjustified, and in analyzing why they happen, such violence can be avoided.
McNamara spoke about the irony of censorship by an academic press. McNamara explained Yale's decision as stemming from a fear of the potential of violence, not actual threats of violence. However, their decision ignored the message that Klausen sends in the book.
"It isn't the cartoons alone [that led to an outrage]; it was the manipulation and use of those cartoons," said McNamara. Religious leaders and politicians used the cartoons as a way to stir up controversy in order to further their political causes. Klausen's goal is to explicate why the protests began from the cartoons and why the cartoons were used for political agenda, McNamara revealed. It is impossible to understand the controversy without looking at the cartoons.
McNamara described how one can look online at the cartoons in one hand and read the book in the other. "That seems folly, doesn't it?" she asked. "Their actions bring disgrace to Yale University."
McNamara said that it is insulting to think that the public would have acted violently if the cartoons been published in the book. She chided the academic world for not speaking out against this publishing decision.
"Where are the professors?" asked McNamara. "This shouldn't be the only edition of Prof. Klausen's book that gets published," she said.