The Winter 2009-2010 edition of Censorship News arrived the other day. The lead articule stunned me. It turns out that Yale University Press lost its nerve and succumbed to fear last summer. It deleted cartoons that Moslems might find offensive. The rationale? The book might stimulate violence "somewhere in the world."
The book in question is Jytte Klausen's Cartoons that Shook the World, a study of the controvery surrounding the publication of comics of the prophet Mohammed in Denmark in 2005. The Danish paper Jyllands-Posten sparked world-wide outrage when it published twelve cartoons of the prophet, thus showing that a sense of humor is not among the attributes shared by all humans.
Yale's decision to withhold the cartoons from a scholarly work attempting to understand the controversy arising from publication of the cartoons is the sort of politically correct garbage one might suspect from a commercial public house worried about its market share. More is expected of a proud academic publishing house that the meely-mouthed fear mongering.
Of course, purists are free to argue that this is not really a First Amendment issue at all. Yale is a private institution, and its publishing arm is free to exercise any sort of censorship it chooses. The plain worlds of the Constituion prohibit Congress from passing any law abriding the freedom of speech. New Haven's Brahmin's are free to strangle authors any way it likes.
But the power of moral leadership is real and abiding. Yale University Press leads by example, and when it censors for the sake of remote fear it sends a signal to lesser publishing houses that fear or remote harm is justification enough to muzzle an author.
There was a time when books that inflamed were sought after. The power of the written word and the printed image has been a powerful toxin for centuries. Are we now so sated with images that we cannot tolerate images the excite the passions?
I confess to not paying a whole lot of attention to the cartoons when they were published. Frankly, I was about as sympathetic to the Islamic fundamentalists decrying the images as I would be to a Christian fundamentalist's insistence that God, He of infinite power, wisdom and good, was so exhausted after the six days it took to create all of space and time that He needed the seventh day off. Fundamentalists, it seems, are always with us.
Yale's decision to remove the cartoons of Mohammed from Klausen's book startled me. I looked up the offending images on line, and provide a link here to those of you who, like me, were too busy to notice what the mad Mullahs were all worked up about. Now that I have seen the pictures, I still don't get it. But I do know that the leadership of Yale University Press is spineless, and that, pun intended, is not a good thing in the book business.
Here are the images. Look for yourself: http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/jyllands-posten_cartoons/
You can check out the National Coalition Against Censorship's statement of principle regarding the Yale censorhip here: http://www.ncac.org/Statement-of-principle-Free-Expression-at-Risk-at-Yale-and-Elsewhere