Monday, October 26, 2009

Is a cartoon worth 200+ lives?


New Chapter In Flap Over 2005 Muhammad Cartoons

October 26, 2009 from WNPR

When a Danish newspaper published cartoons in 2005 depicting the Prophet Muhammad, it caused riots around the world and some 200 people were killed.

Yale University Press has published a new book about the controversy, called The Cartoons That Shook the World. But the book has sparked a controversy of its own.

About a dozen Yale University students recently protested a visit by Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew the now-iconic image of Muhammad wearing a lit bomb in his turban with the creed of Islam written in Arabic on the wrappings.

Westergaard says the right to free speech includes expressing ideas that people may not want to hear.

"For some people, I am a kind of provocation, but I can live with that," said Westergaard. "I go for the dialogue, but it is not very easy. I have tried to speak with many Muslims, and often the conversation has ended up a curse. You know, 'go to hell and burn up.' And I have asked, 'Perhaps we could talk in hell?'"

Committee Deems Cartoons Inappropriate

Jytte Klausen is a politics professor at Brandeis University. She was in the Middle East at the time of the cartoon controversy, interviewing Muslim leaders for another project. She signed a deal with Yale University Press to write an academic book unraveling the events that led to the violence.

In doing her research, Klausen found out that imams and activists in Denmark exploited the cartoons to incite Muslims around the world. She also learned that the demonstrations which followed were sponsored in part by radical Islamists, and in part by governments, including those of Iran and Syria.

"The Egyptian government and the Turkish government were extremely instrumental in pushing forward the conflict," said Klausen. "They primarily wanted to put on record with the United Nations that Europeans and Westerners discriminate against Muslims and are Islamophobic."

Klausen, who's Danish, spent three years researching the book. The manuscript went through the usual academic peer review process.

Then, just a few weeks before publication, Yale University, which owns the Yale Press, mounted a second review. The university asked some 20 scholars, counterterrorism officials and national security experts to asses the risk of more violence if copies of the cartoons were included in the book.

"It was fairly overwhelming that the people who knew the most about this kind of situation said 'Don't do it,' that this was likely to provoke violence," Yale Press director John Donatich said.

One of the experts giving the book a second review was former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.

"I felt that there was a considerable risk that more violence, possibly even resulting in serious injury or death, could occur as a result of the publication of these images," said Negroponte.

The university told Yale Press to eliminate the cartoons from the book, along with all other images of Muhammad. And Klausen was told she'd have to sign a nondisclosure agreement if she wanted to read the experts' comments. She declined to do so. But she says she was even more dismayed to learn that the panel had not read her book.

People don't see this the same way they would see a swastika or they would see the N-word. They see bigotry against Muslims in a separate category as they see bigotry against other races or religions.

"My first reaction was that it was stunningly similar to what happened during the conflict itself," said Klausen. "I disagreed with the experts' advice. I felt that had the experts read my book, they would not have given the advice they produced."

Even so, Klausen decided to publish with Yale Press.

Mixed Opinions

Tarek Masoud, of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, says both sides were grappling with sensitivity to Muslims and Islamic culture. On one hand, Yale didn't want to offend Muslims by reprinting the images.

"But I would also argue that Professor Klausen is coming from a similar place as well, and her belief that you can publish the cartoons without inciting violence," said Masoud. "That Muslims are not really these excitable people who are irrationally given over to violence and anger."

Back on campus, Yale student Fatima Ghani says she's glad Yale Press took the cartoons out of the book. She says they're not an expression of free speech, but of hate speech.

"People don't see this the same way they would see a swastika or they would see the N-word," said Ghani. "They see bigotry against Muslims in a separate category as they see bigotry against other races or religions."

But critics from the American Association of University Professors to the PEN American Center have opposed Yale's decision to publish a scholarly book without including images of the very subject the book covers. Some people charge that the University is concerned with its image in the Middle East and future fundraising prospects.

Klausen says Yale overreacted.

"I cannot recall any similar instance where anticipatory fear of adverse consequences to Yale University private interests or perhaps more general public interests have ever influenced how a book is presented and how a scholarly debate can proceed," said Klausen.

Klausen hopes that a later edition of the book may include the cartoons. In the meantime, she's begun thinking about another project, a look at the impact of national security on the world of academic publishing.

Original article can be found here:

New Chapter In Flap Over 2005 Muhammad Cartoons
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