Thursday, May 24, 2012

Publisher and Author Statements Regarding Non-Publication of Cartoons in "The Cartoons That Shook the World"

I've recently finished Jytte Klausen's book on the Danish Muhammad cartoons, The Cartoons That Shook the World and I plan to have a post about it soon.  Before getting to that however, I thought it would be worthwhile to separately discuss the controversy over the decision not to include reproductions of the cartoons in the book.  Below, I've reprinted Yale University Press's and Jytte Klausen's statements.  I believe printing them in full is appropriate both because they are relatively short and were intended to be circulated as part of the on-going debate over the appropriateness of the decision.
Publisher's Statement

"After careful consideration, Yale University Press has declined to reprint in this book the cartoons that were published in the September 30, 2005, edition of Jyllands-Posten, as well as other depictions of the Prophet Muhammad that the author proposed to include.  We recognize that inclusion of the cartoon would complement the book's text with a convenient visual reference for the reader, who otherwise must consult the Internet to view the images.  As an institution deeply committed to free expression, we were inclined to publish the cartoons and other images as proposed by the author.  The original publication of the cartoons, however, was an occasion for violent incidents worldwide that resulted in more than two hundred deaths.  Republication of the cartoons has repeatedly resulted in violent incidents, as recently as 2008, some three years after the original publication and long after the images had been available on the Internet.  These facts led us to consult extensively with experts in the intelligence, national security, law enforcement, and diplomatic fields, as well as with leading scholars in Islamic studies and Middle East studies.  The overwhelming judgment of the experts was that the republication of the cartoons by Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence; many of the most senior experts advised that publishing other illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad in the context of this book about the Danish cartoon controversy raised similar risk.  In excluding depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, we hope that Jytte Klausen's excellent scholarly treatment will be read and noticed by those seeking deeper understanding of the cause and consequences of the Danish cartoon controversy."

Author's Statement

"Muslim scholars, friends, and political activists and leaders urged me to include the cartoons in the book with the purpose of encouraging reasoned analysis and debate on the cartoon episode.  I agreed with sadness to the Press's decision not to print the cartoons and other hithero uncontroversial illustrations featuring images of the Muslim prophet.  But I also never intended the book to become another demonstration for or against the cartoons, and I hope the book can still serve its intended purpose without illustrations."

This decision was extremely controversial when announced.  After reading the book and the publisher's and author's statements, I can't help but join in the chorus of critics who believe the decision was a serious error.

The primary mission of an academic press is to spread knowledge, and the inclusion of the cartoons in a book about them indisputably helps to achieve this goal.  References are made twice in the publisher's statements to the availability of the cartoons on the Internet, with the implication that it would be unnecessary to reprint them in the book.  However, as Klausen himself states in the book itself, there was much confusion in the "Muslim world" about what actually constituted the cartoons that were published in the Danish press, as other, perhaps even more offensive cartoons, were often mixed into a collection that circulated by hand and electronically.  Similar confusion may abound when any layperson searches "Muhammad cartoons" on a site like Google and tries to discern exactly what was and was not published by Jyllands-Posten.  Nor is "it's on the Internet" a sufficient guarantee of access; a substantial portion of the global population still does not have full, affordable, and uncensored access to the Internet.  In short, having a credible and scholarly source in which to view the cartoons with surrounding context provided by written materials would significantly advance dialogue on the topic.  It would also help better preserve the source of the controversy for future generations to study and understand.

There is a  references in the publisher's statement that the Press consulted with "experts in the intelligence, national security, law enforcement, and diplomatic fields, as well as with leading scholars in Islamic studies and Middle East studies."  Although this is a generalization, I think it is fair to say that the experts in these fields are, by the nature of their profession, prone to be cautious and conservative.  They are far more likely to be risk-adverse, and this predictably inclined them to advise against publication of the cartoons.  After all, they cannot be proven wrong if the cartoons are not published; if they advise publication and something happens, their credibility is at stake.  The Press need not have consulted with "experts" to know that there was a risk of violence under these circumstances.

I understand the nature of the Press's concerns; none of us in the scholarly community wish to instigate violence and have innocent lives on our consciences.  However, words have ramifications far beyond what we can credibly predict, and we cannot take responsibility for the actions of those who become irrationally angry at those words.  This is giving into the "heckler's veto" in the worst way, and following this course leads to authors and publishers being timid and banal instead of courageous and provocative.

As for the author's statement, Klausen states "I agreed with sadness to the Press's decision not to print the cartoons" as if this shifts responsibility.  It is Klausen's book; it is Klausen's responsibility to determine whether the Press's decision supports academic freedom and integrity, and it is Klausen's ultimate decision on whether the book should be published with Yale University Press under these conditions, at another press, or not at all.

I hope, in time, we can look back and see this as another example of how fear sometimes leads good people (and good institutions) to abandon the core principles of their vocation.

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