The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has deplored as an ill-conceived and craven surrender to fear of Islamist violence the decision made by Yale University Press to discard from a forthcoming book images of the cartoons of Muhammad first published in 2005. The book by professor of politics at Brandeis University, Jytte Klausen, The Cartoons That Shook the World, was to have included the twelve 2005 cartoons of Muhammad published by the Danish publication, Jyllands-Posten. It was also to have included other illustrations, including a 19th-century print depicting Muhammad in hell by Gustave Doré which has been frequently reproduced in books. The 2005 Danish cartoons led to an orchestrated campaign of violent protests and boycotts in Asia and Africa that claimed the lives of over 200 people.
Author Jytte Klausen reluctantly accepted Yale University Press decision, but was disturbed by the fact that other representations of Muhammad, like Dorés had also been excluded. The scene depicted by Dore has also been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí. John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said he had been involved in publishing other controversial books and Ive never blinked. But, he said, when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question (Patricia Cohen, Yale Press Bans images of Muhammad in New Book, New York Times, August 12, 2009). Donatich also said that Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence (Christopher Hitchens, Yale Surrenders, Slate.com, August 17, 2009).
Yales decision has also been criticized by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) whose President Cary Nelson released a statement paraphrasing the logic behind it by saying We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands [Yale is] not responding to protests against the book; they and a number of their consultants are anticipating them and making or recommending concessions beforehand The issues are: 1) an authors 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 authors words if it appears they may offend religious fundamentalists or groups threatening violence? We deplore this decision and its potential consequences (Academic Freedom Abridged at Yale Press, AAUP statement, August 13, 2009).
ZOA National Executive Director Gary Ratner said, There has been an alarming propensity in Western societies to pre-emptively surrender to merely an apprehension of a threat of Islamist violence. Such violence is feared or threatened in response to people doing nothing more than lawfully expressing an opinion, displaying a work of art or publishing a book. This problem has been with us since at least the Rushdie affair in 1989 and steadily grown.
In recent years, we have seen churches destroyed and nuns in Somalia murdered because the Pope in a scholarly lecture merely quoted some harsh criticism of Mohammad by a 14th century Byzantine emperor. We have seen Londons Tate Gallery remove a work showing the Quran torn in half. We have seen a performance of a Mozart opera in Berlin cancelled because it was to have included a scene involving the severed head of Muhammad. There are many more examples of this sort of pre-emptive self-censorship.
The issue is not whether these works are good or bad or whether the fear of violence is well-founded or ill-founded. The issue is that they are legal and that freedom of expression, debate and inquiry is an essential element of a law-abiding, democratic free society. It is only right to discuss, publish and view these things. If credible threats of Islamist violence exist, that is a matter for police, security services, the law courts and, not least, the Muslim umbrella bodies and leadership in this country. It is not for publishers, galleries, universities or other bodies to cravenly surrender our precious liberties.
To accept the logic implicit in the explanation provided by Yale University Presss Mr. Donatich, one will have to accept from now on that a scantily-clad woman walking down a street instigates the sexual assault that a rapist chooses to make on her. Mr. Donatich seems to have no understanding of the basic fact that those who murder or maim are the ones with blood on their hands, not the ones who do something that is lawful and thereby arouse the criminality of others.
It is true that evil people act violently on the knowledge or at the sight of things they detest women walking freely down a street, or Jews living in their own country but since when does a line of causation equate with responsibility? White supremacists are enraged when they see African-Americans living freely and sometimes react to that fact with murderous violence. Does that mean African-Americans are responsible for the violence of white racists? Who would be willing to accept such a false, repulsive and dishonorable argument?
In the interest of liberty, free speech, human rights and at a deeper level, our long-term security, Yale university press should rescind this deplorable and craven decision.