Cartoon controversy continues

Sixteen organizations will accuse Yale today of failing to stand up for free speech with its decision not to print satirical images of the prophet Muhammad in a book published by Yale University Press last September.

The organizations, which include the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the International Publishers Association, appear as signatories on a statement that will be sent to Yale, chastising the University for not printing Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard’s controversial cartoons. The statement, written by National Coalition against Censorship Executive Director Joan Bertin, argues that by capitulating to threats of violence, Yale has fed a climate in which people will be afraid to speak and publish freely. Yale’s decision drew widespread criticism and debate from professors, students and alumni in the past three months.

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“The situation is extremely disturbing because Yale is a very prominent university, and their doing something like this might justify other institutions doing so,” Bertin said. “This action compromised the book, the press and an important principle: not only should academics be able to discuss these things among themselves, but in this country we’re entitled to talk about and view the images.”

The statement is the latest development in a controversy that began last August, when the Press announced it would print Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen’s book, “The Cartoons that Shook the World,” without the cartoons that incited violent riots when they were first published in a Danish newspaper in 2005.

“Yale and Yale University Press are deeply committed to freedom of speech and expression, so the issues raised here were difficult,” the Yale University Press said in a statement in August. “The decision rested solely on the experts’ assessments that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims.”

A representative of the Press declined to comment further on the issue earlier this month.

When Bertin sent a letter to University and Press officials earlier this month to notify them in advance about the statement released today, University administrators responded by posting a copy of the August statement on Bertin’s blog.

Although some of the signatories of Bertin’s statement have expressed skepticism that reprinting the cartoons in a scholarly book would actually cause bloodshed, Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said two weeks ago that there is evidence the cartoons are still inflammatory. She pointed to an October incident in Chicago, in which two men were arrested for plotting to kill Flemming Rose, an editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which printed the cartoons in 2005.

Today’s statement, which Bertin co-authored with Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, appeared in print earlier this fall. Bertin and Nelson gave Duke University professor Gary Hull, another signatory, permission to use their statement in his book “Muhammad: The ‘Banned’ Images,” released two weeks ago. The book reprints the images stripped from Klausen’s.

“In my view and the view of the other signatories, what Yale did was really cowardly,” Hull said earlier this month. “There are a lot of smart people at Yale. They should know that for them to cave to what I regard as barbarian behavior leads to nothing but emboldening barbarism and a further erosion of free speech.”

The statement already had more than a dozen signatories — among them Rose, University of California, Los Angeles law professor and first amendment expert Eugene Volokh and Sarah Ruden, a professor at the Yale Divinity School — when Hull published it in his book. Bertin spent several months recruiting additional signatories before sending the statement to Yale.



    It’s a First Amendment stalemate or standoff: Freedom of Religion vs. Freedom of Press. Unfortunately Solomon is not running Yale Press. And this baby already is divided.

  • alum

    Freedom of Religion does not mean that your religion can’t be criticized or that everyone has to follow your religion. Yale serves pork products in the dining halls and holds classes on Jewish and Moslem holidays, doesn’t it?

  • nudels

    For a change, I wish the liberal West can have the courage to say “Up Yours!” Meekness only encourages radical muslims continue the double standard for themselves and rest of the world.

  • Ali

    Yale’s decision reminds me of UNHCR’s response to the following speaker:

    Beware of the duplicitous ways Islam whittles away at our freedoms.

  • Kirk Douglas

    Isn’t this just a phony issue, cooked up entirely by Jewish princes and princesses trying to make “barbarian Muslims” look bad? Who even wants to see these stupid cartoons? A bunch of Jews that can’t stand to see “the Holocaust” mocked?

  • Alex Lee

    Unfortunately, it seems that there are a bunch of spineless cowards calling the shots at Yale. As a university student, I would hope that the masters of the students’ fate in the Yale administration would uphold the freedom of speech that they so (allegedly) cherish. It would appear, however, that their actions do not match their words. How sad.

  • YYY

    It’s not that anyone is so interested in seeing or re-publicizing the cartoons. But this ia a book ABOUT the controversy surrounding the cartoons, yet the reader cannot even see the catoons at issue to judge for himself – ironically due the the same controversy!

    And why would you say that “Jews” have cooked up the issue? Do you have an agenda against Jews? Why? If you simply meant to say that Jews don’t like the Holocaust to be mocked, you are right. Just as Moslems (or members of any religion) don’t like it when their religion or prophet or God is mocked. But when cartoons are published mocking the Holocaust, Jews don’t issue a fatwa. They put them in a museum to illustrate the methods and affects of anti-semitism. They keep them published to expose them, so that they can be discredited by more enlightened thought.

  • (PK)

    But it doesn’t hold classes on Christian holidays. And until recently it paid a Chaplain to worship a Christian God. And I suspect that “For God, Country and Yale” still is code for “For the Father of Christ, Country and Yale” not “For the Abrahamic God, Country and Yale.”

    Is there a Muslim on the Board of Trustees?