Images of Muhammad Banned from Book by Yale Press

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.

Read NCAC’s response to the orginial 12 Danish cartoons.


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10 Responses to Images of Muhammad Banned from Book by Yale Press

  1. Statement by the Yale University Press
    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 re-print the cartoons that were published in the September 30, 2005 edition of Jyllands-Posten, 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 30. The next day al-Qa’ida 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 200 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 U.K.
    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-Secretary Generals, 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 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.

  2. Fossil says:

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.—–Benjamin Franklin

  3. Sarah says:

    I’m surprised that the official press release gives fear of violence as the reason for the choice – a surprisingly honest assessment. At the same time, I’m surprised that the experts they consulted believe that a scholarly book will in fact reach the ears of any significant number of people in other countries, especially since there are not new images to display. It’s a very different decision to choose whether to publish the cartoons as an op-ed, or even as news, than to publish them IN A BOOK ABOUT THEM that is (assumedly) examining the cartoons and their effects. The sensitive issue is that Islam forbids the creation of any image of Muhammad – not just unflattering ones as these are. The press release I think properly notes that basing the decision on these tenets would be inappropriate.

    If the experts truly believe that the possibility of violence is too great to publish the images, it would seem that publication of the entire book might best be put on hold, since it could hardly be complete without them. That of course would seem even more extreme, as it blocks an academic’s scholarship. I’m truly most surprised at this assessment, even more than the decision to censor a university publication (which is a significant surprise on its own).

  4. Meredith N. Springer says:

    My son worked on the ground floor of Barnes and Noble in New York at the time of the fatwa against Salmon Rushdie because of his book, “Satanic Verses.” After the store initially removed the books from sale my son and other employees of the store signed a petition denouncing the cowardly submission of Barnes and Noble to threats. Barnes and Noble changed its mind, and my son and his co-workers had the courage to stand up to censorship by a threat that would probably have made them the first victims.

    Through the history of this country many Yale graduates have given their lives to defend our freedom. The surrender by Yale to the latest threat to our freedom betrays us, and, more particularly, betrays its more courageous alumni.

    Shame! Shame! Shame!

  5. kgb says:

    I’m wondering why don’t muslim flag burners have to go thru sensitivity focus groups before burning American flags and chanting “death to America”, but we have to jump thru endless hoops in hopes of not “offending” them?

  6. Pingback: Yale Shows how to Write about Something without Writing about it « A Third Source

  7. Meredith N. Springer says:

    I don’t think that the Yale University Press eliminated the cartoons because it is concerned about “offending” Muslims. My guess is that it was fear of violence, pure and simple.

    The idea that “offending” people is the issue in this and many other cases in which people on the right frame the question that way trivializes many genuine concerns. It has nothing to do with whether feelings are hurt, which is completely irrelevant to the question. An example I am confronted with regularly is this: I am an atheist, and I, as do many liberal believers, object to prayer in public venues by public officials and in some other comparable public situations. I do not object to believers praying if they are not on the job as public officials or they are not in possession of the microphone at a government event. I DO believe in separation of church and state and I definitely am not “offended” by prayer.

    Freedom of speech is not compatible with freedom from insult, although in some cultures “insults” are answered with violence. We must not yield to these people.

  8. Pingback: NCAC, AAUP and Others Issue Call to Action Over Censorship in Response to Threats of Violence, Real and Imagined « Blogging Censorship

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  10. “As an enemy is made more fierce by our flight, so Pain grows proud to see us knuckle under it. She will surrender upon much better terms to those who make head against her.”

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