A much-needed new book is coming from Yale University Press: The Cartoons That Shook the World by Jytte Klausen, a professor of politics at Brandeis University. It discusses the cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad that were published in the largest newspaper in Denmark, Jyllands-Posten, late in 2005, touching off murderous rage from Muslims around the world.
Such a book could be a useful exploration of the free speech issues that the cartoon controversy raised. And it has already shed new light on the Islamic challenge to free speech represented by the response to the cartoons, even before it has been published.
But it has done so in a way that neither Jytte Klausen nor Yale University Press intends.
For Yale University Press, according to the New York Times, checked with twenty-four “diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism,” as well as other authorities, and they all made the same recommendation: this book about the Muhammad cartoons should not actually include the Muhammad cartoons. John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, explained that “the cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words,” and thus “reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.” He said he had “never blinked” when publishing controversial material before, but “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”
Blood on his hands? Really? While it may seem laudable to want to protect Yale University Press staff and employees from violent reprisals by Islamic jihadists, in fact Yale University Press’s position represents a capitulation of astonishing proportions. He is demonstrating that threats of violence work, and that Western non-Muslims will not stand up and defend the principle of free speech against Islamic supremacist intimidation.
John Donatich and Yale University Press seem to have forgotten that there is no freedom of speech without the freedom to ridicule and even to offend. The instant that any ideology or belief system is considered off-limits for critical examination and even ridicule, that belief system has established an ideological hegemony that destroys free thought and free inquiry. Westerners seem to grasp this when it comes to affronts to Christianity, even when they are as offensive as Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ or Chris Ofili’s dung- and pornography-encrusted Holy Virgin Mary. But the same clarity doesn’t seem to extend to an Islamic context.
Even worse, when Donatich speaks of blood on his hands, he shows that he has, in a pathetic manifestation of intellectual Stockholm Syndrome, adopted the world view of the violent Muslim foes of free speech around the world. For what if the decision had been made that The Cartoons That Shook the World would reproduce the cartoons? Would that really have been “gratuitous”? Of course not. It would have been precisely appropriate to the book at hand. And what if Islamic supremacist thugs murdered more innocent people because of the book? Would that blood have been on the hands of John Donatich or Jytte Klausen? Only in the eyes of the Islamic supremacists themselves. But not in reality. For if someone flies into a murderous rage because of a perfectly reasonable action, the reasonable actor does not thereby become responsible.
If I meet someone who says that he will kill a person every time I step on a crack in the sidewalk, I do not thereby become responsible for the deaths of those people he murders as a result. And if I began to behave as if I were indeed responsible in such a case, I would only be feeding the psychosis of the killer.
The Yale University Press’s cowardly decision not to reprint the Muhammad cartoons in a book about those cartoons only feeds the murderous Islamic supremacist psychosis that is responsible — truly responsible — for so much violence around the world today.
On December 14, 2005, I wrote in Human Events that “the cartoon controversy indicates the gulf between the Islamic world and the post-Christian West in matters of freedom of speech and expression. And it may yet turn out that as the West continues to pay homage to its idols of tolerance, multiculturalism, and pluralism, it will give up those hard-won freedoms voluntarily.” And here we are.