Heading 'em off the pass department: Thoughts on the right to offend

Yesterday, I was speaking with a friend who has inside knowledge about the episode of Yale and the Danish cartoons--you know, the story of how Yale University Press, together with the Yale administration, insisted at the last minute that Jytte Klausen's book The Cartoons that Shook the World be published without the cartoons and, indeed, without any depictions of Mohammed. John Donatich, director of the Yale University Press, and various members of the Yale Administration covered themselves with ignominy both in their original decision to censor Professor Klausen's book and in their response to the almost universal criticism their decision occasioned. "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," which sums up the case nicely.

My friend speculated that Yale would seize upon Friday's attack on Kurt Westergaard, the 75-year-old Danish illustrator who drew the most famous of the cartoons, to justify their despicable behavior last Fall. Yale spokesmen, many readers will remember, said that the chief reason they censored Professor Klausen's book was because they feared Muslim violence if they included the representations of Mohammed. Not that such fears are groundless. They're a touchy lot, these disciples of the religion of peace. Just recall what happened at the Westergaard homestead on Friday. "An axe-wielding Somali extremist," read a story in the Times (the real one, not the New York knock-off), "broke into the home of Kurt Westergaard on Friday. . . by breaking a window." Westergaard fled into a specially reinforced "panic room" while the intruder "shrieked about blood and revenge, as he smashed the axe in vain against the bathroom door."

As I mentioned yesterday, the whole idea of having "panic rooms" in order fend off the Paynim Foe sticks in my craw. I don't deny the prudence of having a bolt hole. If your neighborhood is infested by axe-wielding Somalis, I'd positively recommend one. But to make retreat into an article of policy when dealing with fanaticism is unwise, not to say cowardly and, in the end, counterproductive. (You hope by cowardice to avoid an unpleasant fate: generally, your cowardice guarantees that such a fate, which you might have avoided by stalwart resistance, befalls you.)