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Villain or Fall Guy? Yale and the Case of the Missing Cartoons

August 14th, 2009 - 7:34 am

The burden of the press release was that the YUP feared it “ran a serious risk of instigating violence” if it published the cartoons or “other illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad.”

Possibly. Reza Aslan, an Islamic scholar who provided an endorsement for the book, withdrew his blurb when Yale decided on censorship. Although the book in his judgment was “a definitive account of the entire controversy, . . . not to include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic.”

I, too, think it is “idiotic,” though on the question of violence I’d keep an open mind. You publish a cartoon, adherents of “the religion of peace” torch a few embassies, issue countless death threats, and shoot a nun into the bargain. If I were a bookie, I’d definitely keep an open book on Islamic violence.

But where does that leave us — or, more to the point, where does it leave Yale University Press? The YUP just so happens to be one of the biggest producers of art catalogues for the museum world. What happens when some enterprising young curator puts together an exhibition of the work of Gustave Doré? Will he be told that he cannot include that work depicting Mohammed in Hell? What happens when someone wants to do a catalogue raisonné of the work of Salvador Dalí? Will his image of Mohammed be omitted? Ditto on William Blake, Botticelli, and Giovanni da Modena, all of whom illustrated that passage from Dante. The Koran forbids any depiction of Mohammed, so what about that bas relief at the U.S. Supreme Court by Adolph Weinman depicting Mohammed holding a sword?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The proximate question is: who got the censorship ball rolling? The fact that the Secretary of the University got involved suggests that the administration itself, i.e., the office of President Richard C. Levin, was party to the decision. I emailed John Donatich to ask him about that. I’m still waiting for a response.

One reader of my column yesterday wonders “how much Muslims, especially the Saudis, contribute to Yale U every year?” That’s one question. But I suspect President Levin is more interested in knowing how much more “Muslims, especially the Saudis,” might contribute were Yale to be — how shall I put this? — pleasing in their eyes?

Those may be avenues worth pursuing. It may well be that John Donatich is the fall guy in this little drama. I suspect, though, that it would be difficult to prove it. Such speculations will almost certainly lead to a tenebrous realm in which we’re unlikely to get any definitive lux or veritas.

What we have witnessed, however, is a sterling example of what I’ve described as “pre-emptive capitulation.” It flows from what the British journalist Charles Moore, in a piece from the London Telegraph I quoted from yesterday, identified as “the word that dominates Western culture in the face of militant Islam — fear.”

The fear — or perhaps I should say the concern — is not misplaced. Last year, several Danish papers reprinted the famous Danish cartoons. Result: “Danish youths” — Muslim Danish youths, though that adjective was rarely used by the legacy (formerly the mainstream) media — rampage through Copenhagen setting fire to cars, etc. They were, you see, offended by the cartoons. As I noted at the time,

the list of the things Muslims are offended by would take over a culture. They don’t like ice-cream that (used to be) distributed by Burger King because a decoration on the lid looked like (sort of) the Arabic script for “Allah.” They are offended by “pig-related items, including toys, porcelain figures, calendars and even a tissue box featuring Winnie the Pooh and Piglet” appearing in the workplace. They take umbrage at describing Islamic terrorism as, well, Islamic terrorism and have managed to persuade Gordon Brown to rename it “anti-Islamic activity.” But here’s the thing: one of the features of living in a modern, secular democracy is that there is always plenty of offense to go around. No Muslim is more offended by cartoons of their Prophet than I am by their barbaric reaction to the cartoons. But their reaction when offended is to torch an embassy, shoot a nun, or knife a filmmaker. I write a column deploring such behavior. You see the difference.

But here’s the question — it is the British comic Pat Condell’s question that I quoted yesterday:

“How much more of your freedom needs to be whittled away to defend this intolerant, misogynistic, homophobic, antisemitic ideology from the robust and frank and open criticism that it so richly deserves?”

If the Yale University Press — or perhaps I should say if Yale University itself — is any guide, the answer is “Take it all. We give up.” Mark Steyn, writing about the Yale incident yesterday, is right:

What all these stories — from this disgusting act to the no-donuts-at-Ramadan “recommendations” now common at European businesses — have in common is acceptance of the same general principle: that the most extreme interpretation of Islamic “law” now applies to Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

The really appalling thing is that institutions like Yale — institutions, I mean, that exist to pursue the truth — should tacitly endorse this ethic of pre-emptive capitulation. By embracing this species of mendacious political correctness they forfeit the prerogatives of truth for the dubious satisfactions of multicultural self-righteousness. Steyn’s word “disgusting” is the mot juste. The question is, when — if ever — will a critical mass of people rise up and vomit out this poison?

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