There are a few unexplained mysteries in the case of Yale University Press and Jytte Klausen’s book The Cartoons that Shook the World. As all the world knows by now, when Yale publishes the book in November it will be in a bowdlerized version. Neither the infamous “Danish cartoons” nor classic representations of Mohammed, e.g., Gustave Doré’s illustration for Canto 28 (the “sowers of religious discord”) of Dante’s Inferno, will be included in the book.
The Yale Press and its director, John Donatich, have been widely castigated for this decision. Reporting on the incident yesterday, I suggested that he should exchange the famous Yale motto Lux et Veritas (“Light and Truth”) for Timiditas and Deditio (“Cowardice and Surrender”). Even the American Association of University Professors, not an organization renowned for its courage, has categorically condemned the censorship. “We deplore this decision and its potential consequences,” wrote Cary Nelson, President of the AAUP in a blistering open letter titled “Academic Freedom Abridged at Yale Press.”
Well put. But why did the Yale University Press so ostentatiously abridge Professor Klausen’s academic freedom? It turns out that that is not so easy a question to answer.
I spoke by telephone with Professor Klausen in Denmark yesterday. A couple of days ago, The New York Times, in a typically craven piece, took the side of YUP, noting that the decision to censor (not their word) Professor Klausen’s book had been taken only after consulting “two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism.” But why would the YUP have done that? Professor Klausen told me that the book had already gone through a rigorous vetting. Readers’ reports — including two from Muslim scholars — were unanimously enthusiastic. The only [UPDATE: Lib-Dem] Muslim member of the House of Lords, Baroness Kishwer Falker, enthusiastically endorsed the book: “This tells the story that had to be told,” she said. “Deeply researched and sensitively written, it answers the questions of how and what really happened. A must read!” The book had been vetted by YUP’s legal counsel and received the old nihil obstat. The YUP’s publications committee unanimously and enthusiastically recommended the book for publication. So why call in another “two dozen authorities” on the veritable eve of publication?
And note this: according to Professor Klausen, none of that quire of “authorities” actually read the book. So how authoritative was their recommendation? Call Linda Douglass! Here’s something that really is “fishy.”
Professor Klausen, who teaches at Brandeis, began smelling it in July when John Donatich called her and suggested they have “a cup of coffee” in Boston. Oh, by the way, he informed her later, Linda Lorimer, Vice President and Secretary of the University, and Marcia Inhorn, a Professor of Anthropology and chairman of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale, would be joining them.
Their two-hour cup of coffee on July 23rd was not a pleasant occasion. Professor Klausen was told about the recommendations of those anonymous “authorities.” Unfortunately, her book about the Danish cartoons could only be published without the cartoons. Moreover, Professor Inhorn told her, that depiction of Mohammed in hell by Doré would have to go. How about the less graphic image of Mohammed by Dalí? she suggested.
Nope. No-go on that either. In fact, Yale was embarking a new regime of iconoclasm: no representations of that 7th-century religious figure were allowed. (I rang Professor Inhorn at Yale to ask her about the event. She said she’d call me back. I’m still waiting.)
The recommendations by those nebulous “authorities” were eventually codified in a 14-page memo. Professor Klausen has been read snippets of the memo but hasn’t seen the whole thing because she refused to sign a confidentiality agreement (a “gag order” she called it) not to reveal its contents or the names of the authorities. Why would Yale insist that she sign a confidentiality agreement?
More to the point, why would the Vice President and Secretary of Yale University, one of Yale’s top corporate officers, be party to that “cup of coffee”? I called Linda Lorimer’s office to find out. Imagine my surprise when she turned out to be unavailable. (Perhaps she is traveling in Dubai or Saudi Arabia: Professor Klausen said that she mentioned over that cup of coffee that she often traveled in that part of the world.) I was shunted over to Tom Conroy, Deputy Director of Public Affairs at Yale. He, too, was unavailable, but he later emailed me a press release and asked that I “consider it Yale’s response to inquiries.” Hey, I can take a hint. This document shows that Yale is not without a sense of humor, for it solemnly informs readers that Yale is an “institution deeply committed to free expression.” Funny, what?
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?