YUP Says Nope To Danish Cartoons

This coming November, Danish political scientist Jytte Klausen’s new book ‘The Cartoons That Shook The World‘ will be released – exploring the complex issues surrounding the now-infamous depictions of the Muslim prophet Mohamed in a Danish newspaper. But, to widespread criticism, the book will be remarkably incomplete – with the publishing house YUP deciding against reprinting the offending cartoons at all.

John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, explained the decision, asserting that the cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.

For those of you who may not recall, four years ago The Jutland Post in Denmark printed 12 Islam-based cartoons, some of which depicted Mohamed in a fashion that was deemed offensive. Rather than responding in an intellectually equal and comparable way, Muslim extremists immediately began a shocking campaign of violence and protest, issuing death threats against the cartoonist and the newspaper – including in India where Haji Yaqoob Qureishi, a minister in the Uttar Pradesh state government, announced in February 2006 a cash reward of US$11 million for anyone who beheads “the Danish cartoonist” who caricatured Mohammad.

It’s the fear of similar reprisals that Dr Klausen’s publishers cite as the reason for their refusal to re-print the offending cartoons, but most shockingly they’ve decided to go one step further – removing other historical images of the prophet from the book. It’s this step that has drawn the most condemnation – the act of self-censorship drawing criticism across the board, not least from the author herself. As it stands, the book will appear with an author’s note from Klausen, who says Yale’s decision is a violation of academic freedom and a case of “anticipatory fear on the part of the university of consequences that it only dimly perceives”’

She says: “The metaphor I use is the monster in the woods: You can’t see it at night but you know it’s there, and if you provoke the monster, it’s your responsibility,” – Source:  Boston Globe

Personally, I side with Klausen against the censorship – if people begin to tread on freedom of speech in anticipation of potentially offending people, then we can end up in some very dangerous ground – not dissimilar to what we’ve seen lately with the recent blasphemy laws in Ireland.

I know South Park took a great stance on this in their ‘Cartoon Wars‘ episodes, firmly stating that to use fear and violence to deter people from action is in itself an act of terrorism – ironic, then, that the offence caused by the cartoons was primarily the suggestion that Islam was strongly related to terrorism (the image of Mohamed with a bomb for a turban, for example).

What’s more ironic is that the South Park episode in question, in which a cartoon animator is censored from showing an image of Mohamed, was itself actually censored by Comedy Central network from showing an innocuous image of the prophet, in an act of pre-emptive caution. Really, when we begin to preemptively censor ourselves, it really is telling those who use terror to get what they want that it’s OK for them to carry on doing so.

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  1. #1 by Gittins on September 1, 2009 - 16:54

    At the end of that South Park episode there is an even more offensive sequence featuring Jesus and George W Bush defecating on the US flag, which was not censored by Comedy Central. This brilliantly exposed the double standard between offending Islamic and other religious groups.

  2. #2 by Andy on September 2, 2009 - 10:22

    It always baffles me that proponents of this “don’t create images” thing feel their God needs defending by them in this way. Not much of a God if they are vulnerable to a sketch. I know they will argue that it’s a matter of respect, and I agree. But I can’t really respect a God whose believers are made to feel they have to constantly reaffirm their servitude and faith in this way.

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