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Back to November Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 286 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS NOVEMBER 2009

Yale Censors Images from Book About Danish Cartoons
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In September 2005, the Dutch Jyllands-Posten newspaper published 12 cartoons describing various aspects of Islam, which ignited a series of violent protests across the Muslim world. The cartoons, including one of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, offended many radical Muslims. At least 139 people died and many more were injured in the resulting protests.

The violent reactions to the cartoons between 2005 and 2008 gave rise to serious debate in the Western world about how newspapers and other media should respond. Some argued that reprinting the cartoons in articles on the topic would be culturally insensitive and needlessly offensive. Others countered that not reprinting the cartoons was a concession to terrorism, allowing violent men to hold free speech hostage.

As Hoover Institution fellow Peter Berkowitz relates, this argument is ongoing. Berkowitz charges that a recent development in the controversy, at Yale University, suggests that "lessons in the fundamentals of liberty of thought and discussion may be lacking on campus."

Yale University Press just published The Cartoons that Shook the World, by Prof. Jytte Klausen of Brandeis University. Klausen's book analyzes the worldwide reaction to the Danish cartoons. But in a last-minute prepublication decision in August, Yale officials removed the 12 cartoons from the book. Officials also decided to remove all other images of Muhammad from the book, including those by respected artists. Radical Muslims oppose depictions of Muhammad.

Peter Berkowitz points out that Yale's distinguished academic faculty appeared to take no notice of the censorship of Klausen's book. A few other groups did object to the surprising decision to censor the cartoons: the American Association of University Professors, for example, accused Yale of caving in to the "anticipated demands" of terrorists. A group of alumni organized themselves into the Yale Committee for a Free Press and called on Yale to reprint the book, including the cartoons and other images. In a public letter, these alumni condemned Yale's "surrender to potential unknown belligerents."

Berkowitz likens the politically-correct silence of Yale's faculty on the suppression of the cartoons to similar failures by the faculty at Duke during the lacrosse team scandal, and at Harvard when Lawrence Summers was forced to resign. "This silence represents a collective failure of America's professors of colossal proportions," Berkowitz writes. "What could be a clearer sign of our professors' loss of understanding of the requirements of liberal education than their failure to defend liberty of thought and discussion where it touches them most directly?" (Wall Street Journal, 10-17-09)


 
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