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THE CARTOONS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD

A scholarly book about the Danish Dozen doesn’t include any of the infamous cartoons some of which depicted Islam’s Prophet. The DailyCartoonist tells us that the publisher, Yale University Press, squeamishly consulted with “two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism,” who all agreed that including the cartoons in The Cartoons That Shook the World would involve a risk of reviving the deadly violence that followed the publication of the cartoons in Denmark four years ago. So Yale Press decided not to include them. Religion scholar Reza Aslan, author of No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, calls the publisher a coward: “This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press,” he said. “There is no chance of this book having a global audience, let alone causing a global outcry,” adding, “It’s not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary.”

The author of the book at issue, Jytte Klausen, a native of Denmark who has been at Brandeis University for 17 years and is a specialist on Muslim communities in Europe, argued against Yale's decision, but in the end grudgingly acquiesced, reported James F. Smith at the Boston Globe.  But Klausen thought the situation ironic: "The people who gave advice to the university were not given the opportunity to read my book. They reacted based on e-mailed pictures of the illustrations. What happened here is strikingly similar to when the Danish mullahs were traveling around the world e-mailing their pictures to make people angry. Yale University also, in a similar fashion, removed the cartoons from the context [by asking advice without providing the context of the entire book]. The issue was, should you really ask for that sort of advice [without] providing context? But once you got that advice, and coming from the sources it came from, I don't think [Yale] had much choice. If I was an administrator at the university, I would have pulled the cartoons.''

CartoonsThatShookTheWorld cover Yale’s decision is even more reprehensible — and Klausen’s anger less understandable — given her plan for the display of the cartoons. The book would not have reprinted the twelve cartoons as individual cartoons: her plan was to reproduce the whole page from the Jyllands-Posten newspaper where the offending cartoons initially appeared on September 30, 2005. Presuming that her book is of the usual bookish dimensions — say, 6x9 inches — the cartoons would appear in it too small to be readily perceived.

Although Klausen surrendered to Yale’s squeamishness about the Danish Dozen, she did not agree when Yale went further, editing out historical artworks depicting the seventh-century Prophet because, presumably, many Muslims object to any pictures of Muhammed. So 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. The metaphor I use,” she continued, “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,'' she told Smith in an interview this week in her Brandeis office.

In other words, fear rules. Nothing new here: it was ever thus. Even though we’ve pretended otherwise and sometimes acted in accordance with principle despite being fraught with fear. Islamic terrorists have won: Muslim hooligans have succeeded in changing our behavior, altering the principles that have shaped Western civilization for centuries. The rule of the Koran’s blood-thirsty militant Allah is not much different than that of the cranky megalomania of the Old Testament Yahweh, you’ll say, but either one tends to overwhelm with decibels the quieter humilities of the New Testament’s somewhat more permissive protagonist.

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