Most people in attendance expected Jytte Klausen, author of the book “The Cartoons that Shook the World,” to talk about it: the decision by Yale University Press and the University to remove said cartoons and other images of the prophet Muhammad from the story of the violence that ensued after the cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper 2005.
But at a talk Thursday entitled “Blasphemy and Inquiry: ‘The Cartoons That Shook the World,’” Klausen announced her intentions to not focus on the controversy.
“As many of you undoubtedly know, my book has received some pre-publicity attention because of a decision on the part of the University Press and the University to remove an illustration insert from the book and the illustrations,” she said before an audience at Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall. “I really would prefer to not talk too much about that today.”
Klausen then read the author’s note from her book, which addressed the removal of the images.
Even so, Klausen could not escape the issues of academic censorship that have colored the release of her book. While most of her talk, sponsored by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, focused on the content and issues raised in her book about blasphemy and Islamophobia, most of the following question-and-answer session was devoted to questions about her reaction to the decision to remove the images from her book.
“I became a chapter in my own book,” she said in response to a question.
Before the event began, the audience was held up outside by police. The talk, scheduled to start at 7:45 p.m., was delayed nearly half an hour because an economics midterm was being held in the same room. After the students taking tthe midterm filed out, a bomb squad — accompanied by three black Labrador retrievers — inspected the area.
Klausen began the talk by discussing the chronology of the events surrounding the 2005 publications of the cartoons and the results of her investigation.
“It is in some regards also a detective story,” she said.
Klausen discussed the case for legal blasphemy against the cartoons and the role Islamophobia played in the reaction to their publication. She showed two images that were banned from her book: One was an Ottoman piece of art depicting the prophet and the other showed the Danish cartoons. At the end of her talk Klausen spoke about the removal of those images.
“I want to stress that, of course, the argument can be made that the cartoons are offensive,” Klausen said. “It is very problematic in my view because it assumes that Muslims really did respond to the cartoons based on the notion that they are taboo or bad and lack the self-control to deal with that. My book contradicts that argument.”
During the question-and-answer, Klausen was met with questions about why she did not decide to take her book to another publisher after she heard about the University’s decision. She responded that “once you have a memo on your book” it would be hard to convince another press to publish that book. One attendee called her a “victim.”
Another attendee stood up and announced himself as Joseph Cumming, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture Reconciliation Program: He said he was one of the experts Yale consulted who advocated that the images be removed from the book.
“I had Pakistani Christians, Palestinian Christians, Nigerian Christians begging me, please, use whatever influence you have to persuade people to not keep publishing and republishing these things because we are the ones who get killed,” he said.
Klausen responded: “It wasn’t actually the cartoons that killed people,” she said. “It’s the bombing that comes first, it’s the reason that comes second.”
“The Cartoons that Shook the World” was on sale in the lobby.