Thursday, August 13, 2009


Academic "Fear", Not "Freedom"

As seen in Instapundit -- Yale is planning to publish a scholarly work on the infamous twelve Mohammed cartoons... and is deliberately omitting the cartoons.

If this isn't ridiculous, I don't know what is. By way of analogy: would you want to see a scholarly work researching the history of antisemitic cartoons, without reprinting the cartoons themselves? (I wouldn't. It's an important issue, and I want people to know what they're talking about.)

A brief recap: in 2005, a Danish newspaper learned about efforts to censor images of the prophet Mohammed, and chose to do some research into the subject. So they commissioned several cartoonists to draw images of Mohammed; the images, twelve in all, were then published.

Riots all over the world resulted... and, amazingly, newspapers worldwide then refused to publish the cartoons. The riots were reported in detail, but the cartoons that started it all were not.

Many newspapers justified themselves, of course, by saying that they didn't want to contribute to the violence by inflaming passions further. In doing so, they neglected their job -- which is to keep the public informed.

As if to underscore the point, Muslim rabble-rousers further inflamed passions by showing the Danish cartoons -- including brand-new images that had never been published. (One purported to show a bearded Muslim with a pig's snout; another showed a Muslim being raped by a dog.) They could get away with this... because most people had never seen the original 12, so they didn't know which ones were the original Danish cartoons (published to ask a question), and which were the new Muslim-against-Muslim ones (intended to incite riots).

Here is a slideshow of all twelve, thanks to Charles Johnson at LGF.

Or, if you prefer to see them all at once, here they are. Please note that most are not controversial in the slightest -- except to those who believe that Mohammed must never be depicted in any way. (They're also very tame compared to the way Muslim cartoons depict others!)

(Another view of the cartoons, with more complete translations of the Danish captions, can be found here.)

Some of these are actually rather clever, e.g. the left-hand one in the second row, showing Muslim women in burqas (with only their eyes showing) and Mohammed (with everything but his eyes showing). Several are pedestrian (e.g. #1, #2, #3, and #12); some are relatively tame statements about Islamic terrorism (e.g. #7, #8, and #9); and the self-fulfilling #5 just breaks my heart. (A cartoonist must live in fear, because he drew a cartoon of a cartoonist living in fear? Unbelievable.)

By not publishing the actual cartoons, Yale is compounding the problem, rather than showing the way to solving it. They are also betraying their motto (lux et veritas, "light and truth"), and taking the cowardly way out:
John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said by telephone that the decision was difficult, but the recommendation to withdraw the images, including the historical ones of Muhammad, was “overwhelming and unanimous.” The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.

He noted that he had been involved in publishing other controversial books — like “The King Never Smiles” by Paul M. Handley, a recent unauthorized biography of Thailand’s current monarch — and “I’ve never blinked.” But, he said, “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”
Of course, their research is no doubt freely available on the Internet as well -- so, by Mr. Donatich's logic, there's no need to publish the book at all.

And the claim of "blood on my hands" is equally ridiculous. He is exercising self-censorship due to fear that his work will be abused. By similar logic, we should see equivalent self-imposed bans by people who sell knives, alcohol, or cars.

He is also ignoring future bloodshed. If Muslims today are willing to riot, causing many deaths, because of some silly cartoons, is it more important to fear those riots... or to take a firm stance now, to avoid much worse consequences later? I don't know what will set off the next round of Muslim anti-West riots... but I strongly suspect it'll be even sillier than this one.

Basically, Yale has found excuses for abandoning the principles of academic freedom -- the freedom to investigate anything worth investigating -- in favor of capitulation. It wouldn't have cost Yale anything to include the cartoons, and they could then have applauded themselves for their courageous stand in favor of academic freedom. But they didn't want to risk it.

They will have to live with the consequences of their decision. As Winston Churchill wrote:
"Still, if you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, and still yet if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you, and only a precarious chance for survival. - There may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."

- - -

By the way, when I did a Google search for "mohammed cartoon", I was bemused to note that this one came up as match #5. Perhaps thinks I'm terribly subversive, or something. (Further update: and in mid-September 2009, the same image is match #4... with a link to this site. Strage.)

UPDATE: Michael Moynihan points out that this is indeed atypical for Yale University Press. What a pity.

As Dean Acheson once said at a press conference:
"One must be true to the things by which one lives.

The counsels of discretion and cowardice are appealing. The safe course is to avoid situations which are disagreeable and dangerous. Such a course might get one by the issue of the moment, but it has bitter and evil consequences. In the long days and years which stretch beyond that moment of decision, one must live with one’s self; and the consequences of living with a decision which one knows has sprung from timidity and cowardice go to the roots of one’s life.

It is not merely a question of peace of mind, although that is vital; it is a matter of integrity of character."
Words to live by, indeed.

UPDATE 2: In the interests of reductio ad absurdum, I'm taking a second look at the cowardly sentence I quoted above:
The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.
Hmm. I wonder if descriptions of the cartoons in words would be considered inflammatory? (I suspect so; if you really want to be offended, just about anything can be offensive.)

Let's make a Google search for this page nice and easy:

Mohammed cartoons! Mohamet cartoons! Muhammad cartoons!

Cartoon #1 is one of my favorites! It features Mohammed, wearing a black beard and a red turban, walking tiredly across a desert. He's holding a walking-stick, and pulling a donkey laden with red bundles. There's no caption. It's easy to see why this line-drawing made mobs murderously angry, isn't it?

Mohammed cartoons! Mohamet cartoons! Muhammad cartoons!


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