Yale Press panned for nixing cartoons of Muhammad

A book slated to be published by the Yale University Press about violent controversy has stirred some academic controversy of its own.

“The Cartoons that Shook the World,” a book by Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen, is an account of the uproar that ensued after a Danish newspaper published 12 caricatures of the prophet Muhammad in 2005. But the book will not include those images because the University and the Press are concerned about a possible resurgence of violence.

In Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen’s
In Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen’s "The Cartoons that Shook the World,” an account of the polemic that ensued after a Danish newspaper published 12 caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, the cartoons in question the text are conspicuously absent. The book is to be published by the Yale University Press.

“There is a repeated pattern of violence when these cartoons have been republished,” University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said in an interview. Indeed, while the 2005 violence was the most severe outbreak, there have been subsequent incidents related to the republication of the images as recently as June of last year. In total, about 200 people have been killed in incidents related to the cartoons.

“The homework for us here this summer,” Lorimer said, “was to ask people in positions who could give expert counsel whether there is still an appreciable chance of violence from publishing the cartoons.”

Lorimer and the University first began that work in June, when John Donatich, director of the Yale University Press, alerted her to the book’s impending publication. The University then consulted with a number of experts, ranging from counterterrorism officials in the United States and the United Kingdom to American and Muslim diplomats and others.

Those experts, many of whom remain unidentified, told Yale officials that they had “serious concerns about violence occurring following publication of either the cartoons or other images of the Prophet Muhammad in a book about the cartoons,” University President Richard Levin said in a letter to top administrators sent Aug. 13, when The New York Times first reported the matter.

But the author, for her part, said in a phone interview that the opinion of the experts was “terribly alarmist.”

“I have a reputation as a fair and sympathetic observer,” Klausen said. “There’s absolutely nothing anti-Muslim about my book.”

She added that the experts were never actually shown the cartoons in the context of the book and were instead just shown the cartoons on their own.

“The purpose was to print the entire page from the newspaper,” she said. “Most people have not seen that whole page.”

Two of the experts the University spoke to – an art historian and a Danish museum director, both referred to Yale by the author – agreed that there was no real threat of violence from republishing the images.

But Lorimer said Yale “concluded that those people were not really in a position to make the evaluation of the threat of violence in the same way that senior folks in counterterrorism on both sides of the Atlantic were.”

One of the experts, Ibrahim Gabmari, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Senior Adviser to the Secretary General, said in a statement provided by Yale that “You can count on violence if any illustration of the Prophet is published. It will cause riots I predict from Indonesia to Nigeria.”

Still, since word of Yale’s decision first began to leak out last week, the University and the Press have come under fire for the decision to omit the cartoons.

An editorial in The New York Post on Sunday called Yale “cowardly” and “shameful,” and in a statement, the president of the American Association of University Professors, Cary Nelson, described Yale’s decision as akin to prior restraint. “What is to stop publishers from suppressing an author’s words if it appears they may offend religious fundamentalists or groups threatening violence?” he said. “We deplore this decision and its potential consequences.”

Donatich said, though, that there was no violation of free speech in this case because the images are easily accessible on the Internet.

“I didn’t feel that we were suppressing original information,” he said. “Freedom of speech is paramount.”

Donatich and Lorimer added that they were surprised Klausen has now expressed concern over the decision since she agreed to it at first.

“The author and I had many philosophical discussions about this and she agreed and she decided to publish the book with us as is,” Donatich said.

Klausen said she stayed with the Press because it is a “good press” and because the book had been enthusiastically received by editors there since they signed it in 2006. And she said she understands the predicament that the University found itself in, even as she wishes Yale had made a different decision.

“If you’re a responsible university administrator, I don’t know what else you could do,” Klausen said. “I think in the end Linda Lorimer was spooked by her own advice.”

“The Cartoons that Shook the World” will be published in November.


  • Roberta Wagner

    The money trail is pretty clear. Yale is a partner to the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. I am sure they do not want to lose their $50 million gift from the Saudis by offending them with this book.

  • robert99

    This decision strikes me as unnecessary appeasement of hardline Islamic sensibilities. Would YUP do the same for Catholics or Jews?

  • Anonymous

    …I mean, can you blame them for not wanting people dead--especially since it's a compilation? It's not new material, it's stuff that's already existed publicly; it's not like they are censoring stuff on its first run.

  • jim murray

    Yale may have caved to the radicals this week but during the same week Amazon.com gave the go ahead to "How Fatima Started Islam: Mohammad's Daughter Tells It All". The back cover has a photo of Mohammad with a picture of Fatima on the front.

    No punches are pulled. Did you know that Mohammad was a drunken, child molesting pimp who poorly ran Mohammad's Saloon & Brothel?

    First Amendment v. Fatwa?

  • Jack

    I am more than just ashamed at my university; I am angry at it. What cowardice.

  • The Lorax

    @#2, you don't see the Jews, at least, rioting pointlessly over ideas, so the risk is low.

    Catholics on the other hand--well, let's just say there are remarkable parallels between the actions taken in the name Christianity and those taken for Islam. Even today, I'd be hesitant to shine a bright light of realism on dearly-held Christian beliefs.

    Only the availability bias causes us to perceive Islam as a more dangerous and volatile force. Not much otherwise distinguishes the two in a comparison of blood-thirsty actions against innocents, though Christianity has more global reach and has been around longer so probably they have the jump on things.

    This isn't supposed to be an inflammatory statement, but a suggestion for people who get exorcised about it to grow a brain and think independently by investigating history. Start with "Constantine's Sword" by J. Carroll and go from there.

    Mostly I feel sorry for the Press being put in this situation--it must have been agonizing.

  • Where are the cartoons?

    These cartoons are available online. Anyone with internet access can take a look. Child porn is okay but these cartoons may offend someone. Wow.

  • Wackadoo

    @ Reuben, wouldn't your fear-of-violence rationale apply to prevent all sorts of speech? Also, wouldn't this policy reward the violent, i.e., the Press feels free to go after the peaceable but not the head-sawing types?

    As to the belief that because they are available elsewhere, the BOOK on them need not contain the cartoons, well, doesn't this strike you as daft? Hardly a book for the ages, and certainly not the definitive be-all end-all book on the topic.

    And what does not wanting people dead have to do with anything? I'd say the decision is good as a matter of preventing legal fees defending the inevitable lawsuits, but a poor one when it comes to courage.

  • Strictly speaking…

    …"cowardice" would be a fair charge if the Press thought its employees could be subjected to violence. In all likelihood, the people who'd get hurt would be somewhere else. I hope that the book is good and successful, and that eventually a later edition can rectify the absence of the images that are its subject.

  • @The Lorax

    I feel sorry for the Press being put in this situation too - no one likes their intellectual cowardice revealed.

  • hyt65

    Yale made the right call. Academic freedom is important, but safety trumps it. As a parent of a Yalie, I am happy Yale did not do anything to provoke violence. Anyone who wants to see the cartoon can find it on the Net.
    Muslims should chill about this tho. Why is a picture of Mohammad offensive? Every other major religion I can think of does not consider it offensive to depict its important figures. But since some do get violent about this, still the right call.

  • The Lorax

    Strictly Speaking says, "…the people who'd get hurt would be somewhere else".

    Is this the ultimate case of NIMBY? Are you kidding me? So, what you're saying is: since they're far away, it doesn't matter? Wow. That twisted logic leaves me shaking my head. No wonder our nation is losing its grip on reality and everyone hates us.

    My thought is that the Yale Press doesn't want anyone to die as a result of their actions--here or there. Plus, who wants to draw terrorist attention to Yale? Lots of soft underbellies here.

    And, Number 9--I wouldn't throw stones unless your intellectual cowardice has been tested by a gun trained on you. Are you really so ready to have other people's blood on your hands so you say you can say you're not an intellectual coward? These fanatics aren't operating at an intellectual level so the concern about intellectual bravery when there are life and death issues at hand is ridiculous. Otherwise, I hope you'll try selling translated copies of "The God Delusion" out of a suitcase in the Hindu Kush and let us know how it goes.

  • Arthur

    Is The Lorax trying to make a pun by misusing "people who get exorcised" instead of the correct "get exercised," or does he/she really not know the difference?

  • Y10

    Guys. Come on. These cartoons are a controversial subject. If YUP feared for its safety, then they shouldn't have written a book about the subject in question in the first place. Instead they're just half-assing it and looking like idiots.

    And as for you, hyt65, since when is "some do get violent about this" a valid reason for censorship? Where would we be if we conceded freedom of speech every time such threats were on the table? You and YUP both need to grow a pair.

  • Crazy Muslim Eli

    Muslims are a diverse group of people with divergent opinions about the cartoons and all the associated idiocy that it seems everyone in the mainstream media has an opinion about--except for real life Muslims. It seems the above commenters fail to grasp this fact. Many Muslims won't offer their thoughts about this because the discourse has gotten to such an unsophisticated and implicitly racist point that it really won't matter what they say: they're going to be reduced to fascists or zealots either way.

    Yale should have published the cartoons objectively because they were relevant material to the academic subject of study. The University's great sensitivity to this issue in particular is certainly curious though, and one wonders what kind of experts predicted mass violence as a result of an academic study about the cartoons. As someone who was raised in a Muslim context I find the notion that "we can't do this because 'The Muslims' will go batshit" to be incredibly offensive. Look around people, there are Muslims in your classes at Yale and in your home neighborhoods. If Yale is really concerned about its actions leading to violence, then maybe it should terminate ROTC programs, which tangibly trains people to perform acts of violence and encourages it as legitimate.

    The cartoon riots were manufactured by autocratic Arab regimes and blown way out of proportion. Stupid cartoons in a right-wing xenophobic rag were transformed into a clash of civilizations, with the help of media hype and other convenient excuses. Nobody gives a shit. This is one more stupid way to pretend that the cartoon controversy was some sort of paradigmatic event that re-defined the political struggles of our day. Not true.

  • BR10

    If I were about to publish a book that experts urged me would cause death, I would have second thoughts. Yale doesn't need to brazenly establish itself as a beacon of intellectual freedom. It's less a matter of intellectual freedom than a matter of taste. Why publish a blatantly inflammatory book when you can publish a book that lacks provocation but keeps what matters: the commentary?

    This decision was a no-brainer.

  • The Lorax

    My goodness, thank you, Arthur, for catching my error. So grateful you condescended to read my missive and were able to cut to the heart of the matter to incisively.

  • @Reuben B

    As an artist who's dealt with sensitive political subject matter in opposition to the prevailing political attitudes of Yale, I would think you'd be more inclined to promote freedom of speech.

    Or does the Yale Women's Center simply need to threaten violence to get your editorial cartoons (think: "Lifosuction") shut down? After all, you could simply publish it to your website.

  • Ray

    Ms. Klausen's thesis asserts that the the original Jyllands-Posten publications did not provoke religious outrage, but rather a calculated politically motivated response. Apparently, YUP doesn't agree with her thesis.

  • Ray

    Upon further study, the YUP doesn't care a whit about Ms. Klausen's thesis. It's all about money. http://www.dianawest.net/Home/tabid/36/EntryId/984/More-Lux-et-Dhimmitude-Cherchez-La-Dough.aspx

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    @17: I'm actually okay with some censorship, and have expressed that on my fabulous, outrageously-trafficked website, particularly after the second time my associate, jack kelly, got muzzled, and I laughed it off when I myself got hit by the YDN.

    Regarding this article's case, BR'10 (#15) puts it pretty neatly--if there's legitimate reason to believe people (and not even local people, but human beings on the other side of the planet) are going to die as a result of something as frivolous as art, then the art should be avoided.

    If I had read that the Women's Center has not only simply threatened, but actually gone out and killed people in the past for making fun of say, Susie B. Anthony or whatever, then of course I'd steer clear of that material.

    However, #14 makes a good point: all I know is what people tell me, so if the stories are blown out of proportion, then perhaps fears of violence really are not legitimate. But multiple experts informed the decision, so it would be difficult for me personally to ignore their advice. Although it does strike me as strange that "the experts were never actually shown the cartoons in the context of the book and were instead just shown the cartoons on their own." Perhaps that skewed the advice, who knows.

  • Another Dane

    From islamonline.net:
    "I congratulate Yale University on taking the feelings of 20% of the World into account, it really is a blue touchpaper issue. One cannot divorce current political realities from rarified academia, especially where the West & the Muslim World are involved. In normal circumstances, I would as a Muslim who loves the Prophet dearly be pained but see the necessity of academic freedom of Expression as opposed to populist rabble-rousing Secular Fundamentalist provocation i.e. printing the offensive cartoons in a sympathetic academic tome. The fact that the US has understood the balance between GRATUITOUS INSULT & Freedom of Expression in context speaks volumes for the traditional prgamatism of WASP nations as opposed to the blind dogmatism of Continental Europeans."

    I´m glad I belong to the "blind dogmatism of Continental Europeans" - including the academic freedom.

    Dhimmi Yale.

  • YaleProf

    Three points:

    (1) It surprises you to learn that the Yale admin does not understand the core values of a university? A few years back they canceled all classes for a day for a visit by the president of China, Hu. This was not because of security concerns, as advertised -- they don't do this when the US president visits, or when the Israeli PM visits -- it was because Hu did not want to see protesters, and that was the only way to grant him his wish.

    (2) A university is a very open place. It would be easy for some nutjob to commit an act of vandalism or violence in connection with this book. So all the "it would not affect us" comment here is as naive as it is cowardly. Read the papers -- every few years a crazy student kills professor or fellow students at a university in the US or Canada (It would also be easy for someone seeking to discredit Muslims to do something "batshit," as one student put it, and blame it on Muslims.)

    (3) As is so often the case, the university is not being entirely honest about what they did. Some of the experts consulted deny taking the position Lorimer ascribes to them.

    In the future, perhaps authors who want to publish with Yale Press should just send the manuscript directly to Lorimer, since she seems to make the final decisions about content.

  • Terry Hughes

    I do think there are valid alternative justifications for not including the cartoons in this book. But as far as I know Yale has not availed itself of those particular alternative justifications, at least in public. Inclusion of the cartoons would likely seriously reduce its effectiveness as an instrument advancing reason and tolerance among the people who one should most want to reach. These cartoons are not just images of Mohammed, they are deliberately irreligious images. Such images grossly offend lots of Islamic people … and not just loony ones and many Muslim believe basic Islamic law and tradition prohibit such images. Yale is not bound by that prohibition, of course. But it is a fact that were this book published with such images in it, references to the book would be essentially excluded from debate among many more conservative Muslims than would otherwise be the case (including many scholars). Without such images in the book conservative Islamic criticism of the book (and there will be plenty of that, with or without the images) will be deprived of an easy argument that the book is hostile to Islam. Is would be no more shameful for Yale to remove the cartoons merely to reach a broader Islamic readership than it is shameful of the United States to deploy stealth bombers that avoid enemy radar and antiaircraft fire merely on the grounds that stealth bombers are more likely to deliver their “message” successfully.

    Moreover, omission of the cartoons out of sensitivity to Muslim sensibilities would also be justifiable, although certainly not required. The New York Appellate Courthouse on Madison Square has a row of statues of many classic “lawgivers” that originally included Mohammed. But his statue was removed many years before 9/11. The statue on Madison Square had been included in the row of lawgivers along with Solon, Justinian and other lawgivers because Mohammed was an important lawgiver and that seemed like a nice way to decorate a courthouse at the time. Similarly, in front of the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles there is a ring of statues of historically important astronomers because that seemed like a nice way to decorate an observatory. If Mohammed were still in Madison Square (or restored) would that be construed by Yale's critics as an endorsement of Sharia by the New York State Courts? If not, why not? Is New York to be damned for removal of Mohammed because removal was cowardly or endorsed Sharia’s prohibition on images of Mohammed, but would be also damned for retaining or restoring Mohammed because THAT’s an implied endorsement of Sharia? Of course, nobody construes inclusion of, say, Justinian, as a general endorsement of the Justinian Code. But then nobody previously construed removal of Mohammed’s image as anything but a courtesy to Muslim sensibilities.

    Similarly, a Yale book analyzing Christian reaction to, say, “Piss Christ” could reasonably omit a reproduction of that image on grounds of sensitivity to Christian sensibilities, even though Christian reaction to that object was not (physically) violent. One hopes that discussions and arguments among Muslims over this book will cause more conservative Muslims to take the position that most serious Christians take to objects like “Piss Christ,” namely that such an image is offensive and may violate Christian precepts, but those precepts don’t bind the world at large and their violation does not justify violence or repression.

    I find it curious that the author of this book says that she agrees with Yale’s approach. Indeed, she says that if she thought there would likely be violence she would herself censor her book. She also says that she disagrees only with Yale’s estimate of the likelihood of violence, which leads to her disagreeing with the decision to remove the cartoons. But she also agreed to publication of the book without the cartoons. YUP has pointed out that the cartoons are not hard to find on the web and access to them is not materially restricted by Yale’s decision. Likely readers of what the author describes as an esoteric book intended for a small group of professionals and specialists will already be familiar with this subject matter. In sum, it’s hard to justify criticism of Yale as engaging in “censorship” or restriction of the authors “academic freedom.”

    I don’t pretend to know any secret “real” reason Yale University Press wants the book published without these cartoons. But it seems highly unlikely to me that yearning for Islamic money plays a significant role. Publishing this book, with or without the cartoons, seems likely to make Yale far LESS pleasing in conservative Islamic (Saudi) eyes. I have not read it, but the book is reported to be deeply critical of conservative Islamic thinking and behavior in this incident. Assuming such reports are correct, YUP and President Levin are highly unlikely to have thought that the inflammation of conservative Islamic sentiment caused by publishing this deeply critical book could be reversed to curry favor in that same quarter merely by deleting the cartoons. Moreover, if seeking moneyed Islamic favor were the point, Yale could easily have found any number of quiet and plausible reasons for not accepting the book at all, or for cancelling its publication at the last minute, especially given current economic conditions.

    I am not sure what to make of Yale’s proffered explanation that it wished to avoid violence. But telling the world that Yale removed the cartoons because it feared violence from conservative Islamic interests seems almost calculated to simultaneously irritate both those interests and the most intense critics of those interests. That doesn’t savor of subtle intrigue on Yale or Levin’s part. Of course neither does it validate Yale’s explanation. I do think the decision of whether to include or not include these images should have been made definitively at the outset with the agreement of the author, and not left to the last minute. The last minute decision looks unprofessional and unsophisticated, which is embarrassing to Yale. I can't help thinking that important parts of this story have not ben disclosed to the public.

  • Yale 2010

    Where does it end? If the mention of suicide attacks by Muslims might draw violent protest, would the university similarly censor them? Freedom of speech is far too important to be held hostage to such delicate sensibilities. Mr. Donatich and Ms. Lorimer would do well to brush up on their Brandeis (with Oliver Wendell Holmes concurring), who wrote:

    "Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression;…"

    But then again, Brandeis and Holmes were Harvard men.

  • CC'09

    #23, Yale definitely did not cancel classes when Hu visited. I remember having to take an annoying detour to get up to my class on science hill that day.

  • Anonymous

    all of you hypocrital cowards,that speak so bravely of free speech,why not wear at-shirt with a likeness of MUHAMMED an let the world see how little you value your life,Extremists of all faiths are beyond the pale!try it,please

  • YaleProf

    #26, Maybe it was just classes on central campus. The course I teach was definitely canceled (as it was for everyone in my department).

  • Branimir

    Amusing to read some so-called "YaleProf" here write about 'violence in connection with this book', when it is precisely thanks to the writing/reading of incendiary material that the United States of America was conceived (Declaration of Independence). Furthermore, anyone can be offended by any piece of literature - it does not automatically grant him the right to use violence as a means to express their offended sensibility. Hypothetically speaking, say I am seriously offended by "The Decameron" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray" - should I bomb the offices of the publisher and decapitate the authors? Perhaps all of that could be avoided if those two works never leave the printing press. But then what does humanity lose - or gain? So then it's at the risk of the slippery slope of 'safety' at the expense of freedom of press/ideas. Lastly, I think true safety comes when frauds, bullies and bigots are 'exposed and opposed' in contrast to 'appeased'. In the long term, I believe a lot more harm comes from appeasing the enemies of reason and creative freedom than from opposing them. Best example: read up on Neville Chamberlain (appeasement foreign policy) and Adolf "Version 1939" Hitler (the logical result).

  • @Lorax

    You are completely misconstruing contemporary Christianity and contemporary islam. I assure you there would be no riots and no deaths if someone says something blasphemous about Christ. The assertion that somehow Christianity is evil is stupid. Yes, historically things were done that were terrible in the name of Christianity but that doesn't mean present day Christians should be compared to those who kill people over cartoons. You are being ridiculous and incendiary and present a bias that is not only logically flawed but at its core a distraction from the very issue present.

    It was wrong for the University not to publish the cartoons. But don't bash a peaceful religion in the name of justifying what people around the world do, and please keep your history lesson where it belongs which is in the past because that is the contemporary is the only thing that is relevant.

    It is not availability bias that causes Islam to be seen as more dangerous it is the temporal aspect. Everyone with a right mind knows that Christians are not going to go out and kill people for insulting Christ in today's age. The same is not true for some Muslims. So the "academic" demonetization of Christianity is ridiculous and terribly out of date.

  • RJ Jones

    So what if people are hurt? So what if people die? Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are more important than anyone's lives.

  • David from Luxor

    As a Yale grad, I am ashamed of my university for not publishing the cartoons. This is a straight up-and-down freedom of speech issue. It is not a question of guaging what manner and degree of Muslim violence might result as a consequence of publishing the cartoons, nor is it any of the things mentioned by Terry Hughes, above. There are innumerable reasons for capitulation to Muslim blackmail: Mr. Hughes cites those most frequently encountered. But it is blackmail all the same. Yale University Press ducked its responsibility to uphold the Western value of freedom of expression, a core civilizational value. Period.

  • To #30

    Like most things, it depends on where you are in the world - you don't think there would be riots if, say, Obama, when talking to a crowd in Alabama, said something blasphemous about Jesus? It most certainly would lead to riots.

    There are rioting, crazy Christians and rioting, crazy Muslims. There are also sane, peaceful, friendly Christians and sane, peaceful, friendly Muslims. It depends upon where you are. Here, we're pretty well surrounded by (for the most part) decent, well-meaning and peaceful Christians.

    (See Northern Ireland for a semi-recent look at Christian craziness, though some will certainly say that was more politics than religion.)

  • Branimir

    To RJ Jones and to the rest of the rationalizers and appeasers of violent theocrats here at Yale: Once somebody takes away your right to voice your opinion peacefully, you've already relinquished your "safety" to them. Because now, under the threat of violence, when and where and how and what you speak is at the mercy/permission of psychotic, sadistic and violent theocrats. My freedom to express myself IS my life. If you take that away, you have effectively enslaved me and already killed me. Better to live one day as a free man than one million days as a slave. And I finish with some quotes:

    "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    Benjamin Franklin

    "If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter."

    George Washington

    "We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still."

    John Stuart Mill

    "The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion."

    Henry Steele Commager

    And from a Yale graduate:

    "Censorship reflects society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime."

    Potter Stewart

  • RJ

    I support Yale University decision to NOT to publish prophet Muhammad’s cartoons.
    Here are reasons that I gave ‘At a debate in USA’ Philadelphia in February 2006.
    Please check following link:

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