Yale University Press official statement on Motoon book

Thanks to Tom at CR briefings, here is Yale UP’s official statement.

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 reproduce the September 30, 2005 Jyllands-Posten newspaper page that included the cartoons, 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 thirty. The next day Al-Qaeda 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 two hundred 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 United Kingdom.

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-Secretaries-general, 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 University 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.

Yale’s mistake seems to have been in choosing consultants who were poorly qualified for the job. There is no reason to believe that any of those mentioned above knew nearly as much about the subject as the author herself – so why take their advice over hers? It seems particularly egregious to have asked Ibrahim Gambari – the “highest ranking Muslim in the UN” – as it is highly likely that he would object in principle to any disrespectful portrayal of his prophet, and do what he could to prevent it. His claim – that “You can count on violence if any illustration of the Prophet is published” – is demonstrably false. Yet it is this false assertion that prompted the “I agree” response from Marcia Inhord. Isn’t it bad protocol to allow readers see others’ reports before submitting their own?

They might as well asked Secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeliddin Ihsanoglu, for his opinion.

3 Responses to “Yale University Press official statement on Motoon book”

  1. Lost Boy says:

    Sissies. Publish them. I wouldn’t hesitate to publish a cartoon of Jesus getting a hummer from a $2 prostitute. Grow a pair already. Political Correctness needs to die.

  2. Stuart H. says:

    More evidence that Yale is an academic nonentity.
    OK, my background is semiotics so I have a wider intepretation of ‘text’ than their charmingly 19th century version, but the basic objection I’d have to this is you can’t write a book about a work of art that doesn’t even ‘quote’ the ‘text’.
    How is anyone supposed to understand how these cartoons supposedly ‘offend’ if they can’t even see them? It’s like writing a thousand page epic ‘interpreting’ the Mona Lisa that never shows you the picture because you, as the reader, are too insignificant to gaze on it.
    Total no-brainer, never mind the cop-out on grounds of offending religious sensibilities – which is assumed because a few self-appointed experts (rather than millions of ordinary Muslims) claim only they can tell the rest of the world what that religion thinks. Come to think of it, Yale are thinking like Muslim clerics!

  3. […] an actual reasoned debate on this issue, see the earlier post here.  This is more just an exasperated cry as the decision is finally made official, and to sum the […]