Many people are pondering whether Yale University Press was right to remove the Danish cartoons and other images of the Prophet Mohammed from Brandeis Professor Jytte Klausen's forthcoming book. A story I wrote on the issue in the Globe on Saturday, quoting experts on both sides of the fence, has elicited many comments -- as divided as the experts.
Here are some links to additional resources for those wanting to delve deeper, including excerpts from my interview with Klausen at Brandeis in her office last week.
Those wanting to understand how Klausen approached the issue will have to wait until the book is published in November. It went to the printer last week, without the images. But anyone curious about the author's thinking would do well to read Klausen's perceptive column in the Boston Globe in February 2006.
It's clear that she knows her own country, and understands that Muslims in Europe include moderate clerics who want to become part of their new countries as well as radicals who don't. She said in the interview that her Globe column, written at the height of the deadly turmoil over the publication of the cartoons, and a Salon piece she wrote at the time got her thinking about a book that would go deeper.
Yale issued two statements that convey its reasoning for omitting the pictures. One is a statement from Yale University Press, dated August 14. Download file That statement notes that among the security experts consulted who recommended against publishing the cartoons was John Negroponte, the former Director of National Intelligence and former US ambassador to the United Nations. He and others were quoted as saying the chance of violence was high if the cartoons were reprinted in the book.
The other is a statement from Linda Koch Lorimer, Download file the Yale vice president and secretary of the Yale Corporation, who became involved at the request of Yale University Press Director John Donatich.
Lorimer and Donatich met with Klausen in Boston on July 23 at the Palm bistro in the Westin Hotel. That's where they informed the author of their decision to cut from the book a copy of the Danish newspaper page from Sept. 30, 2005, showing the 12 cartoons.
Yale also produced a chronology of events surrounding the publication of the cartoons and the violent incidents that followed, as evidence to back up Yale's belief that the threat has not yet passed.Download file
Many academics and bloggers have spoken out on the matter. Among them is Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, who said that omitting the cartoons was a violation of academic freedom.
Several bloggers were less restrained. Conservative commentator Roger Kimball, in his blog Roger's Rules, suggested that Yale change its motto Lux et Veritas (”Light and Truth”) to Timiditas and Deditio (”Cowardice and Surrender”).
Among those consulted by Yale who advised against publishing the cartoons was Fareed Zakaria, the Newsweek international edition editor, who is a member of the Yale Corporation. Zakaria told me in an interview that "to revisit the same issue, to pick at the same wounds, it struck me as a fairly strong likelihood that it would be pounced upon by demagogues, phony religious leaders, who are perverting the religion. They would use it to draw battle lines. I think the university made the decision that better to weather a little controversy about whether it drew the line right than to deal with the consequences of their actions leading to 20, 40, 60 or more dead in an international political incident."
See below for excerpts from my interview with Jytte Klausen:
Q. Why did you write the book?
A. "I felt there were many unanswered questions. I was particularly interested in what happened between the moments when the cartoons were published Sept. 30, 2005, and five or six months later when the international demonstrations broke out. It was obvious at the time that very few people in those demonstrations even knew about the cartoons when they originally came out.
So the way that the distribution of information and the way the conflict developed was for me, as a political scientist, a very interesting study in what I call the feedback loop between national and international politics in a global era.
I started pursuing every lead, in terms of the different aspects. I very schematically wrote up who were the main actors, and then I went to see every one of them and interview them. Everybody saw me. They were happy to talk to me. The only person who didn't want to see me was the Danish Prime Minister....
Q. Are the illustrations central to the book?
A. Yes they are. There is a chapter in the book about representation in Islam, about the depiction of Mohammed, in Persian and Arabic illustrated manuscripts and in Western art. The illustrations that are now not in the book contain a number of different styles of depictions. And the purpose is to contrast and compare the ways that respectful depictions show Mohammed as a statesman and a warrior, with a veil on his face blotted out. These are 11th century manuscripts that show Mohammed in full figure, with his face shown. There is a old depiction of Mohammed opening the Kaaba in Mecca. this is very beautiful art.
It's very interesting, fascinating. It's not very accessible. It's not the sort of stuff that you can walk in off the street and understand. But once you understand that these depictions are part of travelogues, biographies, about the Prophet's life and doings, and they are large pieces of work, then they become very interesting to look at....
Q., Aren't these pictures widely available elsewhere?
A. They are no longer widely available because as a consequence of the cartoon conflict, museums across the world have hidden them away.... Yale University Press published a book in 1997, with the Freer Gallery, which has a large collection. It's an illustrated collection of Islamic art. The Freer gallery's depictions of Mohammed are included in that 1997 book.
Q. You reluctantly agreed to withdraw them?
First of all, I wasn't publishing the cartoons. I don't have a right to reprint the cartoons. There's a misunderstanding. But 11 of the 12 cartoons are deposited in the royal library in Copenhagen and embargoed for 10 years. The last one, the one with the bomb in the turban, the most controversial one, the artist still has the right to his drawing. He is reprinting and selling it, and making a brisk business. There's an art exhibit in Denmark about to open where he's putting it up again.
What I had the right to reprint was a page from the newspaper that was published. The page has a lot of text on it. My purpose was to show the page, and the setup of the cartoons. Many of the cartoons did not actually show Mohammed. Some of them made fun of the newspaper. And some, three, arguably four, were racialist depictions of a Semitic Mohammed, drawn in the tradition of European anti-Semitism. One has Mohammed drawn in the style of mythical illustrations, sort of Sunday school illustrations, but instead of a halo, the prophet has been equipped with a pair of horns. So my purpose in reprinting the page was to have a discussion on what these pictures show about how Danes conceptualize and what these pictures mean. In fact the chapter is about the long reach of the Crusades into Western art.
It's highly academic and footnoted (laughs). I hope when people get around to reading it that people find it entertaining. But my ideal reader was an intelligent undergraduate student.
Q. How did the controversy start over publishing the cartoons?
A. The book has been reviewed though the normal procedures. There were four reviewers.... It got very enthusiastic endorsement from the reviews. The Yale Press and I were all very happy and excited. Then there were questions about legal implications. Then legal counsel went through it. That was Yale's counsel. It's unusual for the university to get involved in this very detailed fashion, because of course the press has it's own lawyers as well. I did not protest that. I accept that people are risk-averse, and there would be a high standard for me in terms of documentation and evidence. the book was written knowing that I would be held accountable at very high level.
On July 23, I (was invited) go and have coffee with John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press.... We found a time to meet. Then he told me, Linda Lorimer, the secretary of the University and the chief legal counsel, was coming along. Also Marcia Inhorn, who is chair of Islamic studies department at Yale, was coming along. She had not been involved in the production of the book, and has not read the book.
At that meeting, I learned that the University, Linda Lorimer, had obtained advice that it would be dangerous for Yale to print the cartoons.... And I was told I couldn't print the cartoons.
We argued about it for two hours. I still disagree with their judgment. I think it reflected an incorrect assessment of the causes of the controversy in the first place, and also failed to take into account the context in which I was reprinting the page from the newspaper.
The people who gave that advice to the university were in fact not given the opportunity to to read my book. They reacted on the basis of emailed pictures of the illustrations.
So in my view, what happened here is strikingly similar to when the Danish mullahs were traveling around the world emailing their pictures to make people angry. Yale University also, in a similar fashion, removed the cartoons from the context.
And if you see some of the statements that have been made publicly about how this academic book, written for American undergraduate students in advanced-level classes as a case study of an international relations crisis, was presented as capable of starting a civil war in Nigeria -- i think that is ludicrous.
But to some extent the fuss that has now broken out has distorted what I aimed to do, into yet again a fight over depiction or not depiction (of the Prophet). That is why I agreed to withdraw the cartoons -- because I did not want that. I had nothing to gain from my book to become another shot in the war over depiction or not depiction.
Without doubt it has happened. I am a free speech person, but I am not an activist. For me, there was a violation of academic freedom involved in this instance. I do not think academic freedom is absolute. If there really is credible evidence that murder and mayhem will happen, yes. But the press is now wrapping itself in the bloody flag of the cartoons. Blood will be on my hands -- the words are being said again and again. And the university has made the mistake of making this a great deal more inflammatory than it would (have been), and has seriously underestimated the extent to which this now has become another chapter in the saga of the cartoon conflict, which really now is on autopilot. And mind you, there are no Muslims involved in this process now, except my Muslim reviewers ... who are writing in and saying publish this book with the cartoons...
I have a reputation as being a fair observer of Muslim affairs in the West. That doesn't mean that i don't think we should have freedom of speech. i do not think under any circumstances that we can allow those sort of pieties to determine what we do and what we do not do. but in fact it is not Muslim pieties that are involved in suppressing the cartoons and illustrations in my case. it is anticipatory fear on the part of the university of consequences that it only dimly perceives.
The metaphor I use is the monster in the woods you can't see at night, but you know it's there, and if you provoke the monster it's your responsibility.
I withdrew the cartoon page because I feel universities have a particular duty to be considerate of personnel, students and the welfare of everybody. Once Linda Lorimer got those alarmist reviews, truly I felt sorry for her. The issue was, here, should you really ask for that sort of advice in the absence of providing context? But once you got the advice, and coming from the sources it came from, I don't think she had much choice. If i was an administrator at the university, I would have pulled the cartoons.
But that does not explain why they took out the other illustrations. Because i happen to know for a fact that the people whose advice was pulled in were not even unanimous about the cartoons, because some people have been in touch with me, and (Boston College Professor) Sheila Blair has gone public....
A lot of people are writing me angry emails. A lot of people are calling me a coward, because i agreed to pull the cartoon page, and i agreed to stick with Yale. That's fine, they can call me a coward. But this is not a free speech demonstration, this is academic work, and as far as I am concerned the words will have to stand by themselves.
Q. Is there an accepted basic rule on depicting the Prophet?
A. The cartoon had two problems. It portrayed the Prophet as a source of violence. The Prophet is a source of love and understanding, and he only resorts to violence as a last resort. So to make him the source of violence is just deeply offensive.
The European Muslims got very upset because it was blaming faith, and all Muslims, for the violence, when Muslims regard themselves as the primary victims; 95 percent of all victims of Jihadi violence are Muslims. In Egypt, the tourism economy has been destroyed by terrorism. So people were very angry from the Muslim side that the cartoon blamed the victim.
That was a genuine cultural misunderstanding at the core of the conflict. Just that one cartoon crystallized that.
There's a fatwa on the (US) Supreme Court frieze of Mohammed. A scholar from Mecca, who was asked by the American Muslim community, wrote a fatwah, which is an interpretation of scripture and practice. The conclusion is that Muslims should be proud to have Mohammed the statesman depicted in the Supreme Court, and that it is a recognition of his importance to be there.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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