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August 19, 2009

Your Danish Cartoons Hangover Update

* the writer Christopher Hitchens weighs in on the matter of Yale University Press deciding not to run any images of Muhammad in a book about the use of cartoon images of Muhammad that eventually led to a spate of riots, protests, political turmoil and deaths. Although what he says it true, I think I would come at it from a different angle than Hitchens does, that the pursuit of the full truth outweighs any reasonable consideration of risk in this case and any unreasonable ones as well. No one's quite pointed out how weird it is for the Press to be publishing a book that says the violence that erupted was not a cultural flashpoint but the result of a series of political manuevers, while treating the book as the potential agent for a cultural flashpoint.

* here's the official statement that the Press is distributing:
Yale University Press will publish The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, this November. The Press hopes that her excellent scholarly treatment of the Danish cartoon controversy will be read by those seeking deeper understanding of its causes and consequences.

After careful consideration, the Press has declined to reproduce the September 30, 2005 Jyllands-Posten newspaper page that included the cartoons, as well as other depictions of the Prophet Muhammad that the author proposed to include.

The original publication in 2005 of the cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad led to a series of violent incidents, and repeated violent acts have followed republication as recently as June 2008, when a car bomb exploded outside the Danish embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing eight people and injuring at least thirty. The next day Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombing, calling it revenge for the "insulting drawings."

Republication of the cartoons -- not just the original printing of them in Denmark -- has repeatedly resulted in violence around the world. More than two hundred lives have been lost, and hundreds more have been injured. It is noteworthy that, at the time of the initial crisis over the cartoons in 2005–2006, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Boston Globe declined to print them, as did every major newspaper in the United Kingdom.

The publishing of the book raised the obvious question of whether there remains a serious threat of violence if the cartoons were reprinted in the context of a book about the controversy. The Press asked the University for assistance on this question.

The University consulted both domestic and international experts on behalf of the Press. Among those consulted were counterterrorism officials in the United States and in the United Kingdom, U.S. diplomats who had served as ambassadors in the Middle East, foreign ambassadors from Muslim countries, the top Muslim official at the United Nations, and senior scholars in Islamic studies. The experts with the most insight about the threats of violence repeatedly expressed serious concerns about violence occurring following publication of either the cartoons or other images of the Prophet Muhammad in a book about the cartoons.

Ibrahim Gambari, under-secretary-general of the United Nations and senior adviser to the secretary-general, the highest ranking Muslim at the United Nations, stated, "You can count on violence if any illustration of the Prophet is published. It will cause riots I predict from Indonesia to Nigeria."

Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed, dean of the Under-Secretaries-general, under-secretary-general of the United Nations, and special adviser to the secretary-general, informed us, "These images of Muhammad could and would be used as a convenient excuse for inciting violent anti-American actions."

Marcia Inhorn, professor of anthropology and international affairs and chair of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale, said, "I agree completely with the other expert opinions Yale has received. If Yale publishes this book with any of the proposed illustrations, it is likely to provoke a violent outcry."

Given the quantity and quality of the expert advice Yale received, the author consented, with reluctance, to publish the book without any of these visual images.

Yale and Yale University Press are deeply committed to freedom of speech and expression, so the issues raised here were difficult. The University has no speech code, and the response to "hate speech" on campus has always been the assertion that the appropriate response to hate speech is not suppression but more speech, leading to a full airing of views. The Press would never have reached the decision it did on the grounds that some might be offended by portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, Yale University Press has printed books in the past that included images of the Prophet. The decision rested solely on the experts' assessments that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims.
I hope I'm allowed to do that, but will take it down if I'm not.

* I'm still curious as to how the author is locked into publishing this version and can't take it elsewhere.

* the American Association of University Professors was quick to condemn the decision, although this would impress me more if I had ever heard of them before.

* finally, some good news: authorities in the Netherlands have apparently declined to prosecute Geert Wilders for showing the cartoons on television, nor will they prosecute the television station.
posted 8:30 am PST | Permalink

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