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Yale & the Danish Cartoons: The Plot Thickens

August 15th, 2009 - 11:25 am

In its August 13 report on the decision by Yale University Press to censor Jytte Klausen’s book The Cartoons that Shook the World by insisting that she publish the book without the Danish cartoons or other images of Mohammed, The New York Times informed its readers that

Yale University and Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, . . .

It turns out, though, that the recommendation was not “unanimous.” As The Guardian reported yesterday,

Sheila Blair, professor of Islamic and Asian art at Norma Jean Calderwood University and one of the authorities consulted by Yale about publication, said she had “strongly urged” the press to publish the images. “To deny that such images were made is to distort the historical record and to bow to the biased view of some modern zealots who would deny that others at other times and places perceived and illustrated Muhammad in different ways,” she wrote in a letter to the New York Times which is yet to be published.

As it happens, I have a copy of Professor Blair’s letter to the Times. I asked her whether I could make it public; she said no. Perhaps you’ll read it someday in our former paper of record. While you wait for that, however, contemplate these details:

1) The story in the Times implied that in its appeal to experts the University and/or the YUP was exercising normal caution. But in fact, Professor Klausen’s book had already been throughly vetted. 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. The book had also been vetted by YUP’s legal counsel and passed muster. 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?

Another detail: 2) Professor Blair told me that she was contacted not by the YUP but by the “Office of the President of Yale University.” She spoke with an assistant to President Richard C. Levin.  Professor Blair declined to speculate about the significance of that fact. I will not be so chary. Yesterday, I wrote wondering whether John Donatich, the Director of the Yale University Press, was the “villain” or the “fall guy” in this sordid little drama. As I said in response to a comment from Jytte Klausen, “I strongly suspect . . . that the threats-of-violence trope was a pretext, or at most a subsidiary concern” for Yale. What was the real reason that Yale was anxious to bowdlerize Professor Klausen’s book? Even now, I know, energetic investigative reporters are looking into Yale’s financial relationships with some of the spots where Linda Lorimer, Vice President and Secretary of the University, told Professor Klausen she has often traveled recently: Saudi Arabia, for example. Quite soon, I suspect, we will know why the Yale administration insisted that the Yale University Press dim the lux and veritas when it came to Professor Klausen’s book.

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