Category Archive 'Danish Cartoons'

18 Oct 2009

Moral Bankruptcy of Academia

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Peter Berkowitz discusses prominent cases in recent years of the response to controversy at Duke, Yale, and Harvard, in each of which instances faculty and administrators failed to defend freedom of thought and expression or members of their own community against the excesses of political correctness.

Professors have a professional interest in—indeed a professional duty to uphold—liberty of thought and discussion. But in recent years, precisely where they should be most engaged and outspoken they have been apathetic and inarticulate.

Consider Yale. On Oct. 1, the university hosted Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. His drawing of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban became the best known of 12 cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005. That led to deadly protests throughout the Muslim world. On the same day, at an unrelated event, Yale hosted Brandeis Prof. Jytte Klausen. Her new book, “The Cartoons that Shook the World,” was subject in August to a last minute prepublication decision by Yale President Richard Levin and Yale University Press to remove not only the 12 cartoons but also all representations of Muhammad, including respected works of art. …

To be sure, Yale’s censorship—the right word because Yale suppressed content on moral and political grounds—raised difficult questions. Can’t rights, including freedom of speech and press, be limited to accommodate other rights and goods? What if reprinting the cartoons and other depictions gave thugs and extremists a new opportunity to inflame passions and unleash violence? Can’t the consequences of the cartoons’ original publication be understood without reproducing them? Weren’t the cartoons really akin, as Yale Senior Lecturer Charles Hill pointed out in a letter to the Yale Alumni magazine, to the depictions of Jews as grotesque monsters that successive American administrations have sought to persuade Arab newspapers to cease publishing? And isn’t it true, as Mr. Hill also observed, that Yale’s obligation to defend free speech does not oblige it to subsidize gratuitously offensive or intellectually worthless speech?

These are good questions—to which there are good answers.

Rights are subject to limits, but a right as fundamental to the university and the nation as freedom of speech and press should only be limited in cases of imminent danger and not in deference to speculation about possible violence at an indeterminate future date. One can’t properly evaluate Ms. Klausen’s contention that the cartoons were cynically manipulated without assessing with one’s own eyes whether the images passed beyond mockery and ridicule to the direct incitement of violence.

Even if the cartoons exhibited a kinship to anti-Semitic caricatures, it would cut in favor of publication: a scholar would be derelict in his duties if he published a work on anti-Semitic images without including examples. And finally, if Yale chooses to publish a rigorous analysis of the Danish cartoon controversy, which affected the national interest and roiled world affairs, then the university does incur a scholarly obligation to include all the relevant information and evidence including the cartoons at the center, regardless of whether they are in themselves gratuitously offensive and intellectually worthless.

The wonder is that Yale’s censorship has excited so little debate at Yale. The American Association of University Professors condemned Yale for caving in to terrorists’ “anticipated demands.” And a group of distinguished alumni formed the Yale Committee for a Free Press and published a letter protesting Yale’s “surrender to potential unknown billigerents” and calling on the university to correct its error by reprinting Ms. Klausen’s book with the cartoons and other images intact. But the Yale faculty has mostly yawned. Even the famously activist Yale Law School has, according to its director of public affairs, sponsored no programs on censorship and the university.

Alas, there is good reason to suppose that in its complacency about threats to freedom on campus the Yale faculty is typical of faculties at our leading universities. In 2006, even as the police had barely begun their investigation, Duke University President Richard Brodhead lent the prestige of his office to faculty members’ prosecution and conviction in the court of public opinion of three members of the Duke lacrosse team falsely accused of gang raping an African-American exotic dancer. It turned out they were being pursued by a rogue prosecutor. To be sure, it was only a vocal minority at Duke who led the public rush to judgment. But the vast majority of the faculty stood idly by, never rising to defend the presumption of innocence and the requirements of fair process. Perhaps Duke faculty members did not realize or perhaps they did not care that these formal and fundamental protections against the abuse of power belong among the conditions essential to the lively exchange of ideas at the heart of liberal education.

Similarly, in 2005, Harvard President Lawrence Summers sparked a faculty revolt that ultimately led to his ouster by floating at a closed-door, off-the-record meeting the hypothesis—which he gave reasons for rejecting only a few breaths after posing it—that women were poorly represented among natural science faculties because significantly fewer women than men are born with the extraordinary theoretical intelligence necessary to succeed at the highest scientific levels. Before he was forced to resign, Mr. Summers did his part to set back the cause of unfettered intellectual inquiry by taking the side of his accusers and apologizing repeatedly for having dared to expose an unpopular idea to rational analysis. Apart from a few honorable exceptions, the Harvard faculty could not find a principle worth defending in the controversy over Mr. Summer’s remarks.

As the controversies at Yale, Duke and Harvard captured national attention, professors from other universities haven’t had much to say in defense of liberty of thought and discussion either. This silence represents a collective failure of America’s professors of colossal proportions. 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?

What indeed?

06 Oct 2009

An Eminently Shakeable Yale Administration

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Evan R. Goldstein in Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses the infamous behavior of the current Yale Administration which chose to grovel in the direction of bigoted and fanatical primitives out of a classic New England establishment combination of effete cowardice combined with mercenary greed for financial rewards destined to flow from Arab states paying Yale to operate outposts of Western learning in their camel-scented capitals.

They really should have changed Yale’s color from Blue to Chrome Yellow while they were at it.

(Jytte Klaussen, the author of The Cartoons That Shook the World) was informed by John E. Donatich, director of the Yale press, that all illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad would be removed from her forthcoming book out of concern that they might provoke violence. “I threw up my hands,” an obviously incredulous Klausen recalled during a recent interview. Yale’s decision, made public in The New York Times in August, has been heatedly debated. “This misguided action established a dangerous precedent that threatens academic and intellectual freedom around the world,” warned the National Coalition Against Censorship. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, called the press’s action “fundamentally cowardly.” Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside, withdrew his blurb from the book.

Klausen is plainly exhausted by the controversy. “It has been hard to see the book being sucked into the same polarization that took place around the cartoons.” She does not support Sarah Ruden, a poet and classicist who has previously published with Yale, who has called for academics to boycott the press. The press has already suffered, Klausen says. “Why pile it on?”

In conversation, it is clear that Klausen is relieved, at last, to be discussing the substance of her book, a detectivelike narrative that turns on this question: How did 12 drawings in a provincial daily newspaper provoke an international crisis? …

when does respect for cultural sensitivities drift into a curb on freedom of speech? What is the proper balance between responsible and free speech? “I don’t think free speech gives you license, particularly not as an academic, to say or print anything you want,” Klausen says. “As academics we have an obligation to speak on the basis of evidence and facts, but with sensitivity to religious precepts. But those precepts—be they Muslim, Christian, or Jewish—can’t dictate what we do.” The removal of the cartoons from her book, she says, violated that commitment to evidence and facts. “Worse,” she adds, “this is historical evidence that has been removed from eyesight.”

02 Sep 2009

Dutch Prosecutors Charge European Arab League For Publishing a Cartoon

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The Utrecht public prosecutor’s office announced today that it intends to prosecute the Arab European League (AEL) on hate speech charges under Dutch Law for re-publishing the above cartoon on its website.

When the cartoon first appeared last month, the public prosecutor’s office threatened to charge the group if it did not remove the cartoon. The cartoon was punishable, Dutch prosecutors warned, “because it offends Jews on the basis of their race and/or religion.”

Subsequently, the same prosecutor’s office ruled that the Danish Mohammed cartoons were not offensive to Muslims as a group and were not an incitement to discrimination or violence against them. It declared that the Danish cartoons publication
on Geert Wilders website in 2006 had not violated Dutch law. Nor had the TV programme Nova, which also showed the cartoons.

AEL responded to what it declared to be a double-standard on freedom of expression, and re-posted the Holocaust cartoon.

The Utrecht prosecutor’s office said charge have been filed against AEL for “insulting a group and distributing an insulting image.” The maximum penalty under Dutch Law is a year in prison, but the prosecutor’s office stated that a fine of up to euro4,700 ($6,700) would be a more likely penalty when charges are filed against an organization.

I find it interesting to reflect that long ago, during the period of the European wars of religion, the Dutch port cities used to represent a refuge of tolerance sought by heretics of all descriptions and a publishing center beyond the reach of repressive ecclesiastical authorities. Contemporary political correctness clearly has a longer reach than the Council of Geneva or the Holy Office of Rome. Benedict Spinoza could peacefully grind lenses in Rijnsburg or The Hague, despite having offended the Jewish community with his “abominable heresies and monstrous acts.”

It was touch and go clearly on whether one could publish a cartoon expressing mild derision of the Muslim prophet. There can be no doubt that questioning the Holocaust is an intolerable heresy. Good thing the stake is also politically incorrect.

18 Aug 2009

Hitchens Offers Yale a Little Moral Expertise

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I keep these permanently linked from my right column

Christopher Hitchens does not find persuasive the rationale for Yale’s preemptive surrender in removing the Danish Mohammed cartoons, and other images by Dore, Dali, Botticelli, Rodin, &c., from a new Yale University Press book on the Cartoon Jihad allegedly supplied by a panel of “experts.”

We have serious problems with expertise in the elite circles of the contemporary intelligentsia. Its members’ utter and complete lack of both testosterone and common sense tends to preclude the possibility of the combination of mastery of any particular specialized topic with demonstrated skill in the manipulation of words and symbols being associated with sound judgement or manly behavior.

The Aug. 13 New York Times carried a report of the university press’ surrender, which quoted its director, John Donatich, as saying that in general he has “never blinked” in the face of controversy, but “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”

Donatich is a friend of mine and was once my publisher, so I wrote to him and asked how, if someone blew up a bookshop for carrying professor Klausen’s book, the blood would be on the publisher’s hands rather than those of the bomber. His reply took the form of the official statement from the press’s public affairs department. This informed me that Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”

So here’s another depressing thing: Neither the “experts in the intelligence, national security, law enforcement, and diplomatic fields, as well as leading scholars in Islamic studies and Middle East studies” who were allegedly consulted, nor the spokespeople for the press of one of our leading universities, understand the meaning of the plain and common and useful word instigate. If you instigate something, it means that you wish and intend it to happen. If it’s a riot, then by instigating it, you have yourself fomented it. If it’s a murder, then by instigating it, you have yourself colluded in it. There is no other usage given for the word in any dictionary, with the possible exception of the word provoke, which does have a passive connotation. After all, there are people who argue that women who won’t wear the veil have “provoked” those who rape or disfigure them … and now Yale has adopted that “logic” as its own.

It was bad enough during the original controversy, when most of the news media—and in the age of “the image” at that—refused to show the cartoons out of simple fear. But now the rot has gone a serious degree further into the fabric. Now we have to say that the mayhem we fear is also our fault, if not indeed our direct responsibility. This is the worst sort of masochism, and it involves inverting the honest meaning of our language as well as what might hitherto have been thought of as our concept of moral responsibility.

Last time this happened, I linked to the Danish cartoons so that you could make up your own minds about them, and I do the same today. Nothing happened last time, but who’s to say what homicidal theocrat might decide to take offense now. I deny absolutely that I will have instigated him to do so, and I state in advance that he is directly and solely responsible for any blood that is on any hands. He becomes the responsibility of our police and security agencies, who operate in defense of a Constitution that we would not possess if we had not been willing to spill blood—our own and that of others—to attain it. The First Amendment to that Constitution prohibits any prior restraint on the freedom of the press. What a cause of shame that the campus of Nathan Hale should have pre-emptively run up the white flag and then cringingly taken the blood guilt of potential assassins and tyrants upon itself.

Yale Bans Cartoons, August 13


Salvador Dali, The Divine Comedy Suite (Inferno): Mohammed, wood cut, 1952-1964

13 Aug 2009

Yale Bans Danish Cartoons

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the oh-so-terrible Danish cartoons

The New York Times reported one of the most shameful and contemptible events in Yale’s three century long history.

Here is one of the richest and most prestigious universities in the civilized world piously turning its back on the core Western principles of open exchange of ideas and freedom of expression in order to avert the violence of primitive bigots and fanatics in their barbaric homelands far from New Haven.

If a fraudulent “artist” wanted to submerge the most sacred symbol of the very Christianity which founded Yale in a jar of urine, they’d happily display it in the Yale Art Gallery. If some bolshevik crackpot wrote a play lovingly fantasizing about the assassination of President George W. Bush (Yale ’68), there’d be no problem performing it at the Yale Rep. But derogating anything pertinent to the amour propre of the genuine inferiors of modern European and American civilized humanity is intolerable because it would be violative of the new ultimate and supreme core principle of liberal modernity, the one inevitably trumping any and all other principles and values: ressentiment.

As long as the barbarian comes in the form of the aggrieved Caliban, blaming his condition and violent behavior on the actions and the contempt of the West, there is no length the cowardly intellectual clerisy of today’s establishment will not go to appease him.

Yale University and Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí.

The book’s author, Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., reluctantly accepted Yale University Press’s decision not to publish the cartoons. But she was disturbed by the withdrawal of the other representations of Muhammad. All of those images are widely available, Ms. Klausen said by telephone, adding that “Muslim friends, leaders and activists thought that the incident was misunderstood, so the cartoons needed to be reprinted so we could have a discussion about it.” The book is due out in November.

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.”


Mattheus van Beveren, Mohammed, leaning on his Koran, Trodden upon by Angels Bearing the Pulpit, Liebefraukirke, Dendermonde, Flanders, late 17th century


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