This is almost funny. Here's the Index on Censorship interview with Jytte Klausen, author of The Cartoons That Shook the World. The whole point of their interview - the reason why Jytte Klausen is of interest to the Index on Censorship - is because of the craven decision by Yale University Press to censor themselves, and not include the cartoons in the book. And there, as a preface to the interview, is an explanation by chief executive John Kampfner.... explaining why they won't be publishing the cartoons to illustrate the interview, in terms almost identical to the reasons given by Yale University Press:
The latest issue of Index on Censorship magazine carries this compelling interview with Jytte Klausen. She is a Danish academic at Brandeis University in the United States and the author of the first scholarly account of the Danish cartoons crisis. The interview focused on the decision by her publisher, Yale University Press, not to publish images of the cartoons themselves in her book.
Index on Censorship did not publish the cartoons during the original controversy four years ago. Should we do so this time? I believed it was my responsibility to refer the matter to the board of trustees. In any charity, it is the board that bears fiduciary and legal responsibility and has a duty of care to staff, and stakeholders, such as publishers and printers.
The board met on 27 October. After a detailed discussion, it decided reluctantly to recommend that the images not be published. One member of the board, Kenan Malik, who was unable to attend the board meeting, subsequently took issue with the decision. In response, and in keeping with Index's commitment to free expression, the chairman, Jonathan Dimbleby, and other trustees agreed to publish the reasons for their decision, and to publish Malik's dissenting view alongside.
The Index on Censorship censors itself. Does that mean we now need an Index on the Index on Censorship?
Index on Censorship has in recent years chronicled many instances of what we've called "pre-emptive censorship": the willingness to censor material because of fear either of causing offence or of unleashing violence. From the Deutsche Oper cancelling a production of Idomeneo to Random House dropping The Jewel of Medina to Yale University Press's refusal to publish the cartoons in Jytte Klausen's book, the list is depressingly long. It is a development that, writing in the magazine last year, I described as "the internalisation of the fatwa".
It is both disturbing and distressing to find Index on Censorship itself now on that list. I profoundly disagree not just with the decision to censor the cartoons but also with the reasons for doing so: that publication may have endangered staff and was "unnecessary" and, indeed, would have been "gratuitous".
The safety of Index's staff is, of course, hugely important. But where was the threat? Index certainly received none because no one knew that we were going to publish. Nor is there any reason to believe that there would have been danger had the cartoons not been pre-emptively censored. Islamic scholar Reza Aslan, describing Yale's original decision as "idiotic", pointed out that he has "written and lectured extensively about the incident and shown the cartoons without any negative reaction". And, as Jo Glanville, editor of Index on Censorship, observed in an article in the Guardian earlier this year critical of Random House, pre-emptive censorship often creates a "self-fulfilling prophecy". In assuming that an "offensive" work will invite violence one both entrenches the idea that the work is offensive and helps create a culture that makes violence more likely.
The question that now arises is this: what should Index do when the next Jewel of Medina comes along? After all, we cannot in good conscience criticise others for taking decisions that we ourselves have taken and for the same reasons. So, does Index now believe that it was right for Deutsche Oper, Random House, Yale University Press (and myriad others) to censor?
As for the suggestion that publication would have been "unnecessary" or "gratuitous", I cannot see what could be less unnecessary or gratuitous than using cartoons to illustrate an interview with the author of a book that was censored by a refusal to publish those very cartoons. Almost every case of pre-emptive censorship, including that of Yale University Press, has been rationalised on the grounds that the censored material was not necessary anyway. Once we accept that it is legitimate to censor that which is "unnecessary" or "gratuitous", then we have effectively lost the argument for free speech.
As David T at Harry's Place asks, Why doesn't the entire board of Index on Censorship resign in disgrace?
And, finally, MediaWatchWatch:
Index on Censorship are apparently showing how easily and rapidly freedom of expression can be eroded by example. Are they sure that is really the best way to go about it?