Conservative alums criticize Yale Press

Correction Appended

A group of prominent conservative alumni has joined the chorus of critics of Yale’s decision to remove caricatures of Muhammad from an upcoming book about the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy.

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.

John Bolton ’70 LAW ’74, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and a group of other graduates who call themselves the Yale Committee for a Free Press, is currently circulating a letter to the editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine that renounces the “shameful censorship.” The group is asking for other graduates to sign the letter and to call on the University to publish “The Cartoons that Shook the World” with the cartoons that shook the world intact.

But Jytte Klausen, the Brandeis University professor who wrote the book, said the effort is coming too late. The book, she said, is already being printed and will be published in a few weeks. The original schedule for publication would have made the book available in November.

Even still, Bolton said “the whole episode was an example of intellectual cowardice.”

“To publish a book on the controversy around the cartoons and not publish the cartoons is just mindboggling,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “If they were scared they should’ve just not published the book.”

Or, as David Frum ’82 GRD ’82, the former speechwriter to George W. Bush ’68, put it, Yale should have just reversed its decision.

“Every organization does things that in retrospect don’t look like good decisions,” said Frum, who signed the letter that was written by Michael Steinberg ’74, a lawyer. “When you haven’t made a good decision it is a sign of maturity and wisdom to reconsider.”

For his part, Steinberg, who is senior counsel at the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said he was compelled to write the letter because he was shocked that his alma mater, “one of the leading universities in the world, would be the first to take the step of censoring a book in order to appease potential extremists around the world in the absence of any threat.”

Bolton put things more bluntly: “The fascists have won.”

Klausen added that the experts Yale consulted with about the matter would have had little experience in predicting when a terrorist attack would occur.

But Bolton, speaking by phone, had an entirely different point of view. Instead of consulting with diplomatic experts, he said, Yale should have just called the police.

“If Yale had a concern about somebody behaving illegitimately they should go to the local law enforcement and say we’re worried and we think we need protection,” he said. “That’s why you have police forces; presumably that’s why Yale has a security force.”

Yale officials, of course, see the matter differently. While John Donatich, the director of the Yale University Press, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, University President Richard Levin said in a recent interview that the University acted prudently and was faced with a “situation where two important values come into conflict.”

“The decision that was made was a reasonable one and the right one,” Levin said. “It was not an easy call.”

Steinberg said the call could have been easier for Yale if it had just stayed true to its mission as an educational institution. He said he cannot think of another instance in which a university press censored a publication because it feared a potential terrorist attack.

“As far as I know this is entirely unique,” Steinberg said. “That the campus of Nathan Hale should be the place where censorship in America begins is just horrifying.”

Correction, Sept. 4, 2009: The story “Cartoon controversy escalates” was imprecise in its characterization of the membership of the Yale Committee for a Free Press, a group of alumni who are criticizing Yale’s decision to remove caricatures of Muhammad from an upcoming book about the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy. While several prominent conservative alumni are among the group’s members, the group itself is nonpartisan.


  • newhavenresident

    Don’t these alumni have something else to worry about? Seems like piling on too me? The story is dead…move on.

  • ignatz

    Wow! Freedom begins to die in the venerable town of New Haven, and all “newhavenresident” can say is “move on”? This lack of love for liberty would make our Founding Fathers retch.

  • @newhavenresident

    There are many, many times when one can rightfully accuse alums of being over-involved in trivial things. This is not one of them. Nice coverage, YDN.

  • Alex Schindler

    No, they don’t. Each of them is in his own way deeply invested, personally and professionally, in American relations with the Muslim world. Each of them hates to see the cream of America’s intellectual crop succumb to threats NOT EVEN MADE.

    It is pathetic, and should be decried even by those of us who aren’t professional diplomats or Israel advocates (which is what Steinberg does, I believe). And it sets a horrifying precedent in America.

  • Matt

    Yale = lame.

    I love the university, but its desire for political correctness is sickening.

  • sjcorey

    As a professor and lifelong supporter of free speech and inquiry, I
    call myself liberal.

    The issue of Yale censorship should appeal to all dedicated to free speech, free press, and free inquiry.

    This is not left/right politics. This is only an issue of censorship, which is why I signed the letter.

  • YLS ’12

    The university press’ decision not to publish the cartoons was rightly criticized by people across the political spectrum.

    That “Conservative Yale Alums” now trying to demarcate themselves as one group of critics is simply an opportunistic attempt to promote their rabidly anti-Muslim and pro-war ideology— an ideology that, in many ways, is as equally despicable as the one that led to violence with regards to cartoons in the first place.

  • Yale Alum ’99

    To YLS ’12: My understanding is that the group is bipartisan (the YDN’s labeling as ‘conservative’ isn’t supported by its make-up) and includes people of all faiths, including Muslims. Perhaps you’d be willing to defend your statement that any of the signatories are “rabidly anti-Muslim”?

  • Jytte Klausen

    A clarification is required. In the article I am cited for saying: “Klausen added that the experts Yale consulted with about the matter would have had little experience in predicting when a terrorist attack would occur.”

    I do not know the experts’ identity and hence cannot have an opinion on their capacity to forecast a terrorist attack. The point I was making was that no one was arguing about a specific threat. As John Negroponte said in an interview in the YDN, the concern was about a “generic” risk.

  • TD ’12

    Well I personally believe that the comics should be published freely by the Yale Press and in other media, I can understand the decision to abstain from publishing the images in question.

    Experts in the field have warned that publishing images of Mohammad would likely lead to violence, and Yale has a priority higher than maintenance of its institutional integrity: nurturing its students.

    Yale has thus sacrificed reputation for the protection of its supporters, employees, and student body, the very people who define and maintain the vast majority of Yale’s integrity. I see this as a noble sacrifice.

  • Grad ’03

    As a country (and an academic institution) we pride ourselves for supporting the first amendment rights of distasteful groups such as white supremacists and other hate-based ideologies (Walter Nells a founder of ACLU was a Yale Prof). And yet some members of the Yale community and administration appear to tolerate and justify the omission of cartoons with obvious academic value.

    The YDN’s characterization of the Yale Committee for a Free Press as a conservative cabal is both erroneous (it’s a bipartisan group despite the presence of prominent conservative members) and a distraction from the core issue in this matter which is one of freedom of speech and expression. This freedom is an essential pillar of our democracy. Yalies, for the most part, were quick to decry the erosion of “habeas corpus” for security during the conservative administration in Washington and yet I am at a loss at why the YDN and some members of the Yale Community see this call for constitutional rights as a nefarious “conservative” mission rather than to see it as what it is: namely the erosion of our basic liberties out of fear, political correctness, or (as some say) the need to preserve Gulf-Muslim contribution to Yale’s growing endowment. This is an issue that should concern all members of Yale’s community both on the left and the right!

  • YLS ’12

    Yale Alum ’99: It’s possible YDN mischaracterized it. I judged only by those in the group who were interviewed.

    If there are any future editions of the book, or any re-prints, the cartoons should definitely be included. It’s stupid not to include them. But if there is a question on whether Gulf dollars influenced this decision, then let’s focus on Gulf dollars, and not on some myth about mass Muslim hysteria. (Of course, this would not be a conservative argument, since Gulf dollars find deep pockets in many conservative government circles). The US government has never encountered a Gulf dollar it didn’t like.

  • mr09

    No – the cartoons should not be published. Whether one is atheist, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or whatever, every human being has a threshold, an imaginary line drawn that if crossed molests the very livelihood of our existence. A number of Islamic people throughout the world consider the printing of these cartoons to be that blatant of an assault and are sincere about it; of course there is another group that uses this event as an excuse to incite violence. Considering this threshold, for example, if one’s wife, husband or child was verbally assaulted by an individual under the pretext of free speech, the protector of the assaulted would initially try to diffuse the matter. If the matter persisted, every citizen of this country has channels to follow to have the assault stopped or resolved by the proper authorities. As John Bolton elegantly suggested, we can ‘just go to the police’. The Islamic community is undergoing a continuous assault by the rest of the free speech world at a very delicate, integrated time in history, and Yale’s distinguished conservative and liberal alumni continue to embolden those who may resort to terror to preserve their livelihood. Yes, it is unlikely that a terrorist recourse would take place within our borders and at Yale, but it is most likely to occur in areas where United States men and women are risking their lives on a daily basis. Do these men and women hold no value in the foresight of a previous United States ambassador? What short-sightedness these ‘leaders’ of democracy have! The answer to this debate is obvious. Our free speech is not at risk because of Yale’s decision not to print; however, a group that is part of our international community has their livelihood at stake and will go to great lengths to preserve that for which one exists. Yale made the right choice for the time being.

  • Anonymous

    The cartoons should be published but this may not be the best time to do so. While scholars should have access to editions of sources being used in arguments (which not necessarily the same as editions available through other publishers) they are not the only people with a stake in those sources. We still leave a lot of World War II material untouched out of respect for the living. That principle applies here as well.

    If offense, injury or violence are likely outcomes, the choice involves more than academic freedom. There are consequences for millions of others, in addition to the relatively petty consequences for the list of publications on your resume.

  • AYA

    morg, a number of Muslim scholars would disagree with your views on the Islamic Community’s feelings on the issue:

    I quote NYT 8/12/09:
    “Reza Aslan, a religion scholar and the author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is a fan of the book but decided to withdraw his supportive blurb that was to appear in the book after Yale University Press dropped the pictures. The book is “a definitive account of the entire controversy,” he said, “but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic.”

    In Mr. Aslan’s view no danger remains. “The controversy has died out now, anyone who wants to see them can see them,” he said of the cartoons, noting that he has written and lectured extensively about the incident and shown the cartoons without any negative reaction. He added that none of the violence occurred in the United States: “There were people who were annoyed, and what kind of publishing house doesn’t publish something that annoys some people?”

    “This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press,” he continued. “There is no chance of this book having a global audience, let alone causing a global outcry.” He added, “It’s not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary.”

    The problem morg’s statements (and other cultural relativists) when it comes to basic human rights such as the freedom of speech) is that (ironically) he indirectly legitimizes the actions of Mr. Ahmadinejad of Iran (and other Tyrants) to silence his Muslim people by denying them their basic freedom of expression (which has most recently led to the rape and assault of the very Muslim women that morg professes to support):

    How can we lecture the Islamic Government of Iran on respecting their own constitution and citizen’s human rights when our greatest University refuses to respect an American-based scholar’s freedom of expression?

  • gsw

    @mr09:”The Islamic community is undergoing a continuous assault by the rest of the free speech world at a very delicate, integrated time in history”
    Rubbish! No-one is forcing them to buy or read the book. They merely wish to force their religious views on the rest of the world. There is nothing “delicate” about a history which happens to cover the last 1400 years.
    I, and millions like me, find the Qur’an extremely offensive, a violent, misogynistic and obscene book. Perhaps you think the saudis would censer the bits about the “inferiority of women” before publishing any more copies?
    Didn’t think so.

  • sjcorey

    from roger kimball:

    “Opportunistic,” yes; “unprincipled,” you betcha; and let’s not forget “pathetic.” Just take a look at the damage control Yale has engaged in. The weblog of the Yale Alumni magazine, which now a wholly-owned poodle-like subsidiary of the Yale administration, recently published a piece arguing that the outcry about the cnesorship of Professor Klausen’s book was — wait for it — “conservative.” The idea, of course, is that if a criticism is “conservative,” it is therefore illegitimate. Now, I am only too happy to identify myself as a conservative. And perhaps Diana West and Martin Kramer also belong on that side of the political spectrum. But Yale’s effort to discredit criticism of its behavior as a “conservative outcry” just won’t wash. True, many of the early stories criticizing Yale were by conservatives. But we have since been joined by many liberal commentators. Cary Nelson, for example, head of the American Association of University Professors, thundered in an open letter that “We deplore this decision and its potential consequences.” An editorial in The Washington Post argued that “Yale University Press is allowing violent extremists to set the terms of free speech. . . . [I]t should be ashamed.” Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, described Yale’s capitulation as “the latest and perhaps the worst episode in the steady surrender to religious extremism — particularly Muslim religious extremism — that is spreading across our culture.” Alan Dershowitz, writing in Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, criticized “Yale’s decision to capitulate to what are sure to be increasing demands for censorship out of fear of unlawful and immoral violence.” Meanwhile the National Coalition Against Censorship, is preparing an open letter arguing that Yale’s behavior “compromises the principle and practice of academic freedom, undermines the independence of the Press, damages the University’s credibility, and diminishes its reputation for scholarship.”

    I hope now finally to have done with this discreditable affair. If I have gone on about it frequently and at length, it is because what is happening at Yale is symptomatic of a much larger problem — a much larger failure of nerve — in our culture at large. What is at stake is not just academic freedom but freedom writ large. John Donatich and Richard Levin are sorry collaborationists in a movement that is inimical to everything the institutions they lead represent. I suppose that, from one point of view, they should be pitied. But from the point of view of those who cherish political freedom and the free exchange of ideas, they should be replaced.

  • Weary of muslims

    Perhaps it’s time to show muslims how the second amendment guarantees the first.

  • TruthTeller

    Professor Klausen should try to make money by writing something productive and useful. Not bank money based on bashing Islam which is a new trend. Anybody who wants to make millions, should just go and write an Anti-Islam book or say anything against Islam, and that’s it, they are millionaires. Freedom is speech is protected but these intellectual idiots should know that it also comes with responsibility. If anyone makes a threat (As a Freedom of Speech) against the President of a country, you think that person will not be picked up but cheered by champions of the free speech. If these educated idiots and bigots like John Bolton a Jew and other conservatives who wrote against Yale’s decision not to publish the cartoons, then fight for the Swedish Journalist who wrote about the Israeli government selling organs of Palestinians who were killed by them. The link is all the way to New Jersey where Rabbis were arrested selling kidneys. And for all others, if it bothers for over a Billion of Muslims to see their Prophet caricatured in a bad way, should we not respect their feelings? Muslims should cry out like the Jews do “Anti Semitic” every time something is said about the Muslims.

  • Benjamin Franklin

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

  • Nick

    So this is what happens when idiotic, over-sensitive self-censorship converges with magnified but nontrivial, egregious medieval stupidity.