Yale Criticized for Omitting Muslim Cartoons in Book
September 8, 2009 - 4:26 AMCiting fears of violence, Yale University has removed cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad from an upcoming book about how they caused outrage across the Muslim world.
Yale cited fears of violence.
Yale University Press, which the university owns, removed the 12 caricatures from the book "The Cartoons That Shook the World" by Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen. The book is scheduled to be released next week.
A Danish newspaper originally published the cartoons -- including one depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban -- in 2005. Other Western publications reprinted them.
The following year, the cartoons triggered massive protests from Morocco to Indonesia. Rioters torched Danish and other Western diplomatic missions. Some Muslim countries boycotted Danish products.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
"I think it's horrifying that the campus of Nathan Hale has become the first place where America surrenders to this kind of fear because of what extremists might possibly do," said Michael Steinberg, an attorney and Yale graduate.
Steinberg was among 25 alumni who signed a protest letter sent Friday to Yale Alumni Magazine that urged the university to restore the drawings to the book. Other signers included John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, former Bush administration speechwriter David Frum and Seth Corey, a liberal doctor.
"I think it's intellectual cowardice," Bolton said Thursday. "I think it's very self defeating on Yale's part. To me it's just inexplicable."
Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, wrote in a recent letter that Yale's decision effectively means: "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands."
In a statement explaining the decision, Yale University Press said it decided to exclude a Danish newspaper page of the cartoons and other depictions of Muhammad after asking the university for help on the issue. It said the university consulted counterterrorism officials, diplomats and the top Muslim official at the United Nations.
"The decision rested solely on the experts' assessment that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims," the statement said.
Republication of the cartoons has repeatedly resulted in violence around the world, leading to more than 200 deaths and hundreds of injuries, the statement said. It also noted that major newspapers in the United states and Britain have declined to print the cartoons.
"Yale and Yale University Press are deeply committed to freedom of speech and expression, so the issues raised here were difficult," the statement said. "The press would never have reached the decision it did on the grounds that some might be offended by portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad."
John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, said the critics are "grandstanding." He said it was not a case of censorship because the university did not suppress original content that was not available in other places.
"I would never have agreed to censor original content," Donatich said.
Klausen was surprised by the decision when she learned of it last week. She said scholarly reviewers and Yale's publication committee comprised of faculty recommended the cartoons be included.
"I'm extremely upset about that," Klausen said.
The experts Yale consulted did not read the manuscript, Klausen said. She said she consulted Muslim leaders and did not believe including the cartoons in a scholarly debate would spark violence.
Klausen said she reluctantly agreed to have the book published without the images because she did not believe any other university press would publish them, and she hopes Yale will include them in later editions. She argues in the book that there is a misperception that Muslims spontaneously arose in anger over the cartoons when they really were symbols manipulated by those already involved in violence.
Donatich said there wasn't time for the experts to read the book, but they were told of the context. He said reviewers and the publications committee did not object, but were not asked about the security risk.
Many Muslim nations want to restrict speech to prevent insults to Islam they claim have proliferated since the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, a world affairs columnist and CNN host who serves on Yale's governing board, said he told Yale that he believed publishing the images would have provoked violence.
"As a journalist and public commentator, I believe deeply in the First Amendment and academic freedom," Zakaria said. "But in this instance Yale Press was confronted with a clear threat of violence and loss of life."
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