Muhammad and Man at Yale; Political Correctness Leads to Censorship in the Ivory Tower

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 31, 2009 | Go to article overview

Muhammad and Man at Yale; Political Correctness Leads to Censorship in the Ivory Tower


Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Yale has run up the white flag to terrorism.

Yale University Press is set to publish The Cartoons That Shook the World, an academic account of the caricatures of Muhammad printed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. Those drawings were exploited by Islamists to incite protests and violence worldwide. The best-known of these shows Muhammad with his turban shaped like a bomb. The book's author is Jytte Klausen of Brandeis University, a Carnegie Scholars award-winning expert on Muslim culture in Europe. By all accounts, the book is thoroughly researched and scholarly in tone - not the stuff of controversy.

Enter academic politics. Yale President Richard C. Levin reportedly swooped in at the last minute with a censorship order prohibiting the book's planned illustrations. John Donatich, director of the nominally independent Yale press, complied. We are left with a book detailing every aspect of the cartoons but not allowed to show them. Other representations of Muhammad also were banned, including a 19th-century print by Gustave Dore of Muhammad being eviscerated by a demon in hell. This famous depiction comes from a scene in Dante's Divine Comedy that later inspired works by Auguste Rodin and Salvador Dali. The Yale University Press mission statement claims that the publisher continually extends its horizons to embody university publishing at its best. That claim would be hard to justify at the moment.

Yale contends that censorship was necessary as a matter of public safety. University elders argue that reprinting the cartoons could result in a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims. Yet Yale press has published images of Muhammad before. There were no specific threats against the school, and the cartoons have been reprinted a number of times in many venues without incident. Yale consulted with experts who unanimously concluded - or so said the university - that publishing the cartoons could incite violence. In actuality, Yale cherry-picked the expert opinions it released and refused to let Ms. Klausen see the full consultants' reports unless she agreed in writing not to discuss their contents. At the least, the code of secrecy calls into question Yale's credibility when trumpeting the putatively unanimous vote.

Yale's pre-emptive surrender to religious extremism has come under fire from thinkers across the political spectrum, including Alan M. Dershowitz, Roger Kimball and Christopher E. Hitchens. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, condemned the move as an assault on academic freedom, a blow to the reputation of the press and the university, and potential encouragement to broader censorship of speech by faculty members or other authors. …

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Muhammad and Man at Yale; Political Correctness Leads to Censorship in the Ivory Tower
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