A few days ago, I spoke with Jytte Klausen, author of The Cartoons that Shook the World (and Yale University Press) (the book’s new title). Surely the news cycle has not quite cooled on the story of the YUP’s last-minute decision to publish a censored version of Professor Klausen’s book about the Dnaish Cartoons, a version that omits not only the cartoons themselves, thus robbing the book of its raison d’être, but also other artistic representations of Mohammed, thus capitulating to the daft iconoclasm that permeates the more extreme forms of Islam. If the designer of the book had a sense of humor, he would arrange to have the book printed with the offending illustrations blacked out and the word “CENSORED” emblazoned over the page. I’m not holding my breath.
Like almost everyone in Christendom (can I still say that?), I found the behavior of the YUP both disgusting and mysterious — disgusting, because it was an act of pre-emptive capitulation to the forces of intolerance and barbarism, mysterious because Professor Klausen’s book had been thoroughly vetted and enthusiastically endorsed by a broad range of scholars, including Muslim scholars. What precipitated their last-minute grovel? Some readers speculated that it had something to do with Yale’s desire not to queer the pitch with possible sources of support in the Middle East. Maybe so.
In any event, in response to my second post on the episode (my first was here), Professor Klausen sent in a comment to which I responded. The exchange can be found in the comments section of the relevant post, but since she raised a point that I believe it is important to air, I reproduce the exchange here:
Mr Kimball and I agreed during our conversation that Yale University had legitimate reasons to be concerned about the impact of reprinting the page from the Danish newspaper with the 12 cartoons. I do not think free speech principles override a university’s obligation to consider the safety of its personnel, at home or abroad. If I thought my family would be put at risk if I reprinted the cartoons in my book I would not do it. Yale University, represented by Linda Lorimer, and I disagreed about the risks involved and, perhaps, more importantly about the means by which one estimates risk in connection with an otherwise non-controversial scholarly book with (sorry to say) limited readership.
Jytte Klausen, Brandeis University
Regarding Professor Klausen’s comment (#5): my recollection is that she raised the threat of violence as a concern. I did not agree that Yale had a legitimate reason to censor her book only that, given past experience, publishing the cartoons might indeed spark violence. Who knows? As I pointed out in my column, displaying a “pig related item,” selling a container of ice-cream with an abstract design that might by the credulous be construed as representing the name Allah, wearing a football T-shirt with a red cross, or any of a hundred other things might be “offensive” to radical Muslims and spark violence by them. They’re a touchy lot.
There are, I think, two questions here. One concerns the extent one allows oneself to be intimidated by extremists. They say: “Don’t publish representations of Mohammed or we’ll burn down your embassies, riot in the street,” etc., etc. Do you say, “OK, noted. We’ll not publish.” Or do you say, “Buzz off, we’ll publish whatever we wish and the police here will take care of you if you try to make good on your threats.” I favor the second course.
The second issue concerns the credibility of Linda Lorimer and the Yale administration. As I said in my piece, the search for motives in this case takes one into a shadowy realm. I strongly suspect, however, that the threats-of-violence trope was a pretext, or at most a subsidiary concern. Put plainly, I do not believe her. I hope some energetic investigative reporter will look into the case and shed some light upon those shadowy regions. My suggestion: look at the money, both the money trail and prospective sources of lucre.