Yale University Press is drawing flack from virtually all corners for its decision to purge cartoons and other artwork depicting the Prophet Muhammad from an academic book about the controversy resulting from their 2006 publication by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.
Yale said the decision follows the advice of "diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism" who feared the publication in Brandeis University Professor Jytte Klausen's forthcoming The Cartoons That Shook the World "ran a serious risk of instigating violence."
American Association of University Professors President Cary Nelson slammed the Yale Press approach as an affront to academic freedom:
"In an action that parallels prior restraint on speech, Yale also refused to give the author access to consultants' reports unless she agreed in writing not to discuss their contents. Such reports typically have their authors' names removed, but a prohibition against discussing their content is, to say the least, both unusual and objectionable."
Martin Kramer highlights the role played by Marcia Inhorn, chairwoman of Yale's Council on Middle East Studies. Inhorn previously mocked concerns she encountered about a trip to lecture in Iran as ignorant and counterproductive:
"Wait a minute.... The last time we encountered Professor Inhorn, she was telling us to ignore the fear-mongering, not to let the media dupe us into expecting the worst. Now, behind the scenes, she's telling an expert author, who knows a lot more about the topic than she does, that Yale's press absolutely must expect the worst. The author's book must be censored."
Christopher Hitchens offers the Ivy League school lessons in history and language, first noting that the notion of limiting images of the Prophet "was the rather admirable one of preventing idolatry. It was feared that people might start to worship the man and not the god of whom he was believed to be the messenger." He then issues a scathing rebuke of Yale's conclusion that publishing the Danish images of Muhammad, along with classical art works from Iran, would instigate violence:
"If you instigate something, it means that you wish and intend it to happen. If it's a riot, then by instigating it, you have yourself fomented it. If it's a murder, then by instigating it, you have yourself colluded in it. There is no other usage given for the word in any dictionary, with the possible exception of the word provoke, which does have a passive connotation. After all, there are people who argue that women who won't wear the veil have 'provoked' those who rape or disfigure them … and now Yale has adopted that 'logic' as its own.
It was bad enough during the original controversy, when most of the news media—and in the age of 'the image' at that—refused to show the cartoons out of simple fear. But now the rot has gone a serious degree further into the fabric. Now we have to say that the mayhem we fear is also our fault, if not indeed our direct responsibility. This is the worst sort of masochism, and it involves inverting the honest meaning of our language as well as what might hitherto have been thought of as our concept of moral responsibility."
Finally, a fed-up Hugh Fitzgerald calls for a boycott on donations to Yale in protest of the publishing decision and Inhorn's role in it:
"Her behavior, in a well-ordered universe, would so arouse the faculty and students that they would demand her removal, and they would boycott her classes, and those of her now-absurd department, and she would feel compelled to leave. But that's not likely to happen, is it?"
Universities used to pride themselves for being the one refuge for truly open debate, where no idea, no matter how offensive it may appear, can be heard. What all the articles cited here share is an outrage at seeing self-imposed prior restraint on speech.
It's not the first time this has happened in the U.S. But it's especially disconcerting at Yale, which as Hitchens notes is "the campus of Nathan Hale."