Q&A | Negroponte ’60 discusses cartoons

When the Yale University Press was faced with the decision of whether to reprint the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that are at the center of its forthcoming book, “The Cartoons that Shook the World,” it turned to the University proper for advice.

University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer then consulted with numerous counterterrorism and diplomatic officials. She asked them whether reprinting the cartoons could incite more violence. For the most part, Yale says, those experts cautioned the University and the Press not to republish the cartoons.

While the University has not revealed the identity of most of the experts with whom it consulted, John Negroponte ’60 recently confirmed to the News that he was among the group of people who spoke with Lorimer and other Yale officials. Negroponte, who served for many years in government and was the nation’s first director of national intelligence, will begin teaching at Yale in the fall.

QWhat advice did you give Yale about publishing the cartoons?

A:I agreed with the decision by Yale, and I certainly think that publishing the cartoons and the likenesses of Muhammad in the way they appeared in those cartoons would have been a gratuitous act.

Q:Do you think there would have been violence in reaction to the republication of the cartoons?

ACertainly the experience has been that up to now the republication of some of these cartoons has caused an even more violent reaction than the initial publication.

QWould that violence have taken place on Yale’s campus or elsewhere?

AI think it was a more generic threat. The violence in the case of the Danish cartoons mainly happened abroad in places like Kabul, Afghanistan. But it’s violence nonetheless.

Q:When would the concern about possible violence be outweighed by the obligation to protect free speech?

A:It’s a judgment call, of course. The question is: on balance, how much of the academic purpose of this book is stymied by the fact of not publishing the cartoons? I don’t think it’s stymied at all since the images are accessible elsewhere, especially online.

Q:What else influenced your recommendation to the University?

A:What was kind of decisive for me in a way as I looked through the background and some of the material was that the American newspapers took the decision not to publish the images back in 2005. I think one did, but the Washington Post and New York Times and Boston Globe did not.

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