Index on Censorship magazine is mired in controversy again after a refusal by its board to publish the controversial Danish cartoons over an article.
The new edition of the magazine carries an interview with Jytte Klausen, a Danish academic at Brandeis University in the United States, about the decision by her publisher, Yale University Press, not to publish images of the racist caricatures themselves in her book.
Index on Censorship did not publish the cartoons during the original controversy four years ago.
This time its board overruled the editor Jo Glanville and refused to publish any cartoons with the interview.
According to chief executive John Kampfner:
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 After a detailed discussion, it decided reluctantly to recommend that the images not be published.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.
Index on Censorship's chair Jonathan Dimbleby has put the the decision to overrule the editor down to security concerns.
The board's main concern was both for individual members of the Index staff and those who worked for the seven other organisations which share our Free Word premises in Farringdon Road, and who would have been equally on the receiving end of any attack aimed at Index.
I consulted the Index editor and established that, in her view, publication of the cartoons — though very desirable — was not crucial to an interview which did not focus on the cartoons themselves but on the process by which Yale decided against their publication.
Against that background, I consulted every colleague (including those who had not been able to attend the relevant board meeting). With the exception of two board members (one of whom was content to abide by the overwhelming majority view) my colleagues argued strongly against publication.
Writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik has argued against the decision, saying:
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 actual interview with Jytte Klausen is available to read here.
Index on Censorship has posted all the articles on its website.
Although one could argue that the magazine has a special duty not to shy away from self-censorship, should the decision solely be that of the management?
And is a threat from Muslims likely anyway since not a single British Muslim took part in a violent act over the original controversy?