Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yale University Press Cowers Before Thugs

Many readers, especially those concerned with free speech issues, in particular, and civil liberties, in general, will remember the worldwide controversy that erupted about four or five years ago when a Danish newspaper decided to print some satirical cartoons that featured images of the Prophet Mohammed.

In the years since, Yale University Press decided to publish a book about the controversy, a scholarly examination of what happened and what it meant.

Scheduled for publication in November 2009, the book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, is written by a Brandeis University political scientist, Jytte Klausen, who was born in Denmark.

So far, so good.

Now comes the news that Yale University Press has deleted the cartoons in question from the book. In other words, Klausen can discuss the cartoons in her book, but she cannot show them.

Here's the New York Times on the story:

John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said by telephone that the decision was difficult, but the recommendation to withdraw the images, including the historical ones of Muhammad, was “overwhelming and unanimous.” The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.

He noted that he had been involved in publishing other controversial books — like “The King Never Smiles” by Paul M. Handley, a recent unauthorized biography of Thailand’s current monarch — and “I’ve never blinked.” But, he said, “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”
Donatich does not even understand the basic concept of personal responsibility: that blood will not be on "his" hands if someone performs a violent act in reaction to publication of this (or any other book), but rather on the person who acts violently. Violent actors are responsible for their own actions, not the victims of violence. Victims are not culpable for evil done against them.

Yale is afraid, and rather than do the brave thing -- standing up against terrorists and thugs -- it is submitting.

Still, "submission" is just what they want.

The thing is, such submission is not even necessary. The Times' Patricia Cohen explains the view of one Muslim intellectual:
Reza Aslan, a religion scholar and the author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is a fan of the book but decided to withdraw his supportive blurb that was to appear in the book after Yale University Press dropped the pictures. The book is “a definitive account of the entire controversy,” he said, “but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic.”

In Mr. Aslan’s view no danger remains. “The controversy has died out now, anyone who wants to see them can see them,” he said of the cartoons, noting that he has written and lectured extensively about the incident and shown the cartoons without any negative reaction. He added that none of the violence occurred in the United States: “There were people who were annoyed, and what kind of publishing house doesn’t publish something that annoys some people?”

“This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press,” he continued. “There is no chance of this book having a global audience, let alone causing a global outcry.” He added, “It’s not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary.”
The book is still available for sale; it just won't be complete.

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