Michael Totten

Yale University Press Censors Itself

“Christopher Hitchens is disgusted”:http://www.slate.com/id/2225504/?wpisrc=eDialog at the fact that the Danish cartoon scare isn’t over.

The capitulation of Yale University Press to threats that hadn’t even been made yet is the latest and perhaps the worst episode in the steady surrender to religious extremism—particularly Muslim religious extremism—that is spreading across our culture. A book called The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Danish-born Jytte Klausen, who is a professor of politics at Brandeis University, tells the story of the lurid and preplanned campaign of “protest” and boycott that was orchestrated in late 2005 after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran a competition for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. (The competition was itself a response to the sudden refusal of a Danish publisher to release a book for children about the life of Mohammed, lest it, too, give offense.) By the time the hysteria had been called off by those who incited it, perhaps as many as 200 people around the world had been pointlessly killed.

Yale University Press announced last week that it would go ahead with the publication of the book, but it would remove from it the 12 caricatures that originated the controversy. Not content with this, it is also removing other historic illustrations of the likeness of the Prophet, including one by Gustave Doré of the passage in Dante’s Inferno that shows Mohammed being disemboweled in hell. (These same Dantean stanzas have also been depicted by William Blake, Sandro Botticelli, Salvador Dal“, and Auguste Rodin, so there’s a lot of artistic censorship in our future if this sort of thing is allowed to set a precedent.)

I can relate to Yale University Press and its concern about what might happen to its staff or to others if the cartoons are (re)published. I lived in Beirut when a rent-a-mob was bussed into the city to torch the Danish Embassy after a similarly “spontaneous” riot broke out in (of all places) Damascus. I wasn’t exactly in the mood to publish the cartoons myself at the time since I lived literally within walking distance of the crime scene.
Now, though? Who cares? The offending cartoons have been reproduced all over the place in the meantime, and there haven’t been any “grassroots” explosions of anger about them for years.
Martin Kramer “explains why”:http://sandbox.blog-city.com/fear_mongering_at_yale.htm:

Extremists are always looking for something to exploit, but it has to be a new, unprecedented (perceived) offense against Islam. Dante’s Inferno, Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons — these are all old perceived offenses, too familiar to fire up a sense of indignation. No doubt there will be another round at some point — and no doubt, its ostensible “cause” will surprise us all. (That’s because it won’t really be the cause, but a “pretext”:http://sandbox.blog-city.com/danish_cartoons_a_proposal.htm — like the Danish cartoons.)

Everybody at Yale ought to take this to heart and relax.