Monday, August 17, 2009

Cowardice in New Haven


Or: Allah and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom

UPDATED: Hitch also weighs on in this here.
We've been over this before, right? So what does it say when one of our greatest universities lacks the courage of a small newspaper in Denmark?

Yes, once again it's the Danish Muhammad cartoons. This time the concrete application of the topic is a forthcoming book from Yale University Press examining the cartoon controversy. Yale has determined that 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.

You read that right: a book examining freedom of speech, and free expression in the face of opposition and controversy, is not allowed to publish the very illustrations at the heart of the controversy. Not only that, the university refused to let the author read the report of the panel of experts who made the recommendations unless she agreed to a gag order in which she would agree not to reveal the contents of the report.

Fortunately, this is not going without protest. Reza Aslan has demanded that the university remove his blurb from the book, noting that "the book is “a definitive account of the entire controversy,” he said, “but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic.” The decision has also been criticized in other blog posts, here, here (yes, we independently hit on the same title, for obvious reasons), and here.

So what's the moral here? I guess that if you make enough noise, and you scare enough people, you can make a mockery of academic freedom, even in one of the greatest universities in the western world.

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