The NY Times reports today that Yale University Press has not only decided to remove the controversial Danish cartoons of Muhammad from “Cartoons that Shook the World” by Jytte Klausen; they have decided that all images of Muhammad have to go on the recommendation of a group of “diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism”.
“…they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí.”
While we understand the sensitivity of this issue, Yale is setting a frightening precedent as one of the leading academic presses in the country. In not publishing these images, Yale Press will not protect anyone from the furor they incite – rather it allows such furor to trump reasonable discussion, debate and scholarly investigation, which is exactly what Ms. Klausen is arguing in her book: “The book’s message is that we need to calm down and look at this carefully.”
Cary Nelson, President of the American Association of University Professors, lays it out nicely:
“The issues are: 1) an author’s academic freedom; 2) the reputation of the press and the university; 3) the impact of these twin decisions on other university presses and publication venues; 4) the potential to encourage broader censorship of speech by faculty members or other authors. What is to stop publishers from suppressing an author’s words if it appears they may offend religious fundamentalists or groups threatening violence?”
We respect the input of those two dozen diplomats and Islamic experts, however we sincerely hope that Yale University Press reconsiders their decision after hearing from academia and some pretty astounded First Amendment folks who recognize this creates serious consequences for academic freedom.