YALE UNIVERSITY Press last month defended its decision not to publish the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that provoked international outcry in 2006.
In “The Cartoons That Shook The World”, Jytte Klausens examines the scandal that ensued after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 editorial caricatures exploring the censorship of the Islamic faith.
The cartoons lead to widespread rioting in the Middle East and Africa, killing some 200 people and led to attacks on Danish and other European embassies throughout the world.
Yale University Press however declined to re-print the 12 cartoons for the new academic study, and has also made the decision to remove other illustrations including a 19th Century sketch of The Prophet by Gustav Doré. The author, in an interview with The Guardian newspaper, said the book was ready to go to press when the images were removed at the last moment, much to her reluctance.
The action was taken on the advice of diplomats and counterterrorism experts who predicted that publishing the images “would cause riots from Indonesia to Nigeria.”
As a result, Yale University has come under harsh criticism from academics and media across the world. Critics say the banning of the cartoons “is an infringement upon academic freedom.” Reza Aslan, a religion expert and author of “No God but god: the Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam” was quoted in The New York Times calling the suppression “an act of academic cowardice.”
In a statement, the president of the American Association of University Professors, Cary Nelson, added to the debate, “What is to stop publishers from suppressing an author’s words if it appears they may offend religious fundamentalists or groups threatening violence?” he said. “We deplore this decision and its potential consequences.”
In response to the media outcry the university released its own statement defending its position. Yale stated that “as an institution deeply committed to free expression,” it was initially inclined to publish the cartoons and other images as proposed. But after consideration of the fact that republication of the cartoons had “repeatedly resulted in violent incidents, including as recently as 2008,” it decided to consult Islamic experts throughout the world, including foreign ambassadors including the highest ranking Muslim official at the United Nations.
All had voiced serious concern in attaching the name of such a prestigious institution to the publishing of the images would cause renewed violence in the Islamic world.
The director of the Press, John Donatich, told The New York Times that not only was the response regarding the images “overwhelming and unanimous,” but that “when it came between [publishing the images] and blood on my hands, there was no question.” The university also noted that both The New York Times, The Washington Post and every major newspaper in the United Kingdom chose not to publish the images in 2005.
But the author remains angry at the Press’ decision not to include any illustrations of Muhammad at all, including an Ottoman print and a Gustav Doré sketch portraying the Muhammad in Dante’s Inferno. “Sadness, not anger, characterises my feelings,” said Klausen to The Guardian.
“The cartoons … one can discuss. The removal of the other illustrations poses problems for the text, which was written to the illustrations. I cannot yet judge how confusing it will be to the reader to follow my argument without the illustrations, but for sure these illustrations were intended to awake the reader to the history of depiction of Muhammad in Ottoman, Persian, and Western art – and to show also how we live with images and do not examine them. Well, they will not be examined this time.”
The Cartoons that Shook The World is published in Europe in January.