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Yale press passes on showing Muhammad cartoons

September 10, 2009
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We were just talking about the uproar over the Muhammad cartoons in Journalism & Religion, and a former student sent me this AP story, which shows the controversy still lingers. Apparently, Yale University Press decided, after some consulting and no doubt some Ivy League hand wringing, to remove the Muhammad cartoons from a book on that very subject: The Cartoons That Shook the World by Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen.

In a statement explaining the decision, Yale University Press said it decided to exclude a Danish newspaper page of the cartoons and other depictions of Muhammad after asking the university for help on the issue. It said the university consulted counterterrorism officials, diplomats and the top Muslim official at the United Nations.

“The decision rested solely on the experts’ assessment that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims,” the statement said

Quick recap: In 2005, a Danish newspaper published political cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Muslim readers were offended and let the newspaper know. But then things got really out of hand when the cartoons were circulated in Muslim countries in Asia and Africa where people rioted in the streets, desecrated churches, torched embassies and burned Danish flags. That’s a news story, of course. But in reporting it, most U.S. newspapers refused to publish the cartoons. I didn’t agree with that decision and was proud when my newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, printed the cartoons. I sympathize with Muslims who object to the depiction of their prophet, but I believe that the secular press should report the news. All of the news.

Back to the Yale press, though. A lot of folks are steamed about this decision. Some call it cowardice. Some say it’s insulting to Muslims to assume that images in the book would create a violent backlash. Others say it’s just an example of academics taking themselves way too seriously.

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