We started out speculating about why Richard C. Levin, the President of Yale University, should have been involved in the decision by Yale University Press to bowdlerize Jytte Klausen’s book about the Danish cartoons by insisting that it be published without the cartoons or any other representations of Mohammed. Our guess: what a pal of Bertie Wooster’s memorably apostrophized as “Oof, Bertie, moolah, spondulicks.” As to the provenance of the right stuff: Araby, of course. Why else would the president of Yale take the extraordinary step of intervening in a decision by the “independent” publishing entity that just happened to bear the name “Yale”? I thank the correspondent who pointed me to this bijoux from a The Yale Daily News, 28 September 2006: “President Richard Levin said the press has the right to independently decide what to publish,” the YDN reported in a story about a controversial biography of the King of Thailand. They went on to quote President Levin: “The Yale Press is not a platform for anyone to speak their mind. Any book accepted goes under a scrupulous process for review. Access to publication on the University’s press is not like the opportunity to speak on Beinecke Plaza.”
So there! Actually, there is a moderately disreputable backstory to Levin’s role in the publication of that book, The King Never Smiles, but I am not at liberty to divulge the details. What is worth drawing attention to in the context of the present controversy over the censorship of The Cartoons that Shook the World is the contrast between Levin’s words (I say nothing about his behind-the-scenes actions) then and his behavior now.
Since Yale, and the Yale Press, have been so unforthcoming, we are left in the realm of speculation. But various facts have come to light to illuminate and guide the speculation. We know, for example, that the University and the YUP lied when they said that the outside experts they consulted after Ms. Klausen’s book had been professionally vetted were “unanimous” in their recommendation to censor the book. They were not. We know, too, that the reason given for the censorship — that publishing the images might lead to violence — was largely if not wholly a pretext.
Now Martin Kramer has uncovered and connected a few more dots in an essay called “Some Day Yale’s Prince Will Come.” [UPDATE: and see Diana West here.] Mr. Kramer introduces us to Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a Saudi billionaire (at last count, it was 13 billions) whose hobbies include endowing Islamic centers on American campuses. “I am,” he said in 2003, “in the process of establishing centers of Arab and Islamic studies at select universities in the United States.” Georgetown collected a cool 20 million for its center in 2005; Harvard did likewise.
And there’s more where that came from. According to Muna AbuSulayman, executive director of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, the foundation has set aside $100 million for such purposes. And where does Yale figure into this picture? “In April,” Kramer reports,
Yale named Muna AbuSulayman a “Yale World Fellow” for 2009. This isn’t some honorific, and she’ll reside from August through December in New Haven. (Her Facebook fan page, August 16: “I need help locating a Town House/condo for short term leasing near Yale University… Anyone familiar with that area?”) Can you imagine a better way to set the stage for a major Alwaleed gift? Hosting for a semester the very person who structured the Harvard and Georgetown gifts, and who now directs Alwaleed’s charitable foundation? A stroke of genius.
What do you make of that, Sherlock? Kramer offers this thought experiment:
Imagine, then — and we’re just imagining — that someone in the Yale administration, perhaps in President Levin’s office, gets wind of the fact that Yale University Press is about to publish a book on the Danish cartoons — The Cartoons That Shook the World. The book is going to include the Danish cartoons, plus earlier depictions of the Prophet Muhammad tormented in Dante’s Inferno, and who-knows-what-else. Whooah! Good luck explaining to people like Prince Alwaleed that Yale University and Yale University Press are two different shops. The university can’t interfere in editorial matters, so what’s to be done? Summon some “experts,” who’ll be smart enough to know just what to say. Yale will be accused of surrendering to an imagined threat by extremists. So be it: self-censorship to spare bloodshed in Nigeria or Indonesia still sounds a lot nobler than self-censorship to keep a Saudi prince on the line for $20 million.
Plausible, what? And let’s keep the context in mind. We’re in the middle of a recession, remember.
Yale has seen its endowment suffer billions in losses, and its administration has the mission of making the bucks back. Yale’s motto is lux et veritas, light and truth, but these days it might as well be pecunia non olet: money has no odor — whatever its source. Still, that isn’t the mission of Yale University Press, which seeks to help authors of exceptional merit shed full light on the truth. More than three years ago, I warned against “the deep corruption that Prince Alwaleed’s buying spree is spreading through academe and Middle Eastern studies.” If this is what caused Yale University to trespass so rudely against the independence of its press, then the rot has spread even further than I imagined. I’ve been a reader for Yale University Press, which I think publishes a more interesting list in Middle Eastern studies than any university press. But if editorial decisions are to be subjected to vetting and possible abortion by Yale’s money collectors, why bother? Ignore all the denials, and watch for a hefty gift from Arabia, perhaps for another Alwaleed program in Islamic apologetics. Fat endowments speak louder than words-or cartoons.
I’d wager Martin Kramer is right. Any takers?