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Yale University Press Klausen Book Statement

Statement by John Donatich
Director of Yale University Press
September 9, 2009

The controversy over Yale University Press's decision to publish The Cartoons That Shook the World without reproducing the cartoons has been front and center for the past month or so. The omission of the cartoons, and of other images of the Prophet Muhammad, has angered many people, who see it as a case of censorship or as a compromise of academic integrity. I believe it is neither of those things.

Would including the illustrations enhance the book? The easy answer is, of course, yes. But the book's reader will quickly discover that it is not a graphic analysis of the cartoons or a history of depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Rather, it is an intrepid detective story that investigates the nature and source of the protests that followed the publication of the Danish cartoons. It is a scholarly examination of how dissent is mobilized and used politically and how misunderstandings between cultures are perpetrated and amplified. The New York Times, in its editorial in February 2006, defends its own decision not to print the cartoons as a "reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols, especially since the cartoons are so easy to describe." Jytte Klausen does a wonderful job describing them.

And the cartoons are deliberately grotesque and insulting, gratuitously so. They were designed to pick a fight. They meant to hurt and provoke. At best, they are in bad taste. The Press would never have commissioned or published them as original content. Those alone may be reasons enough not to print them. In addition, the illustrations are widely available elsewhere. You can see them right now on Wikipedia or dozens of other sites. And finally, there was an argument to be made that printing the cartoons and accompanying illustrations would simply perpetuate the misunderstandings and reignite the very conflict that it intends to analyze in a balanced and nuanced way.

We considered all these points. But by themselves, they weren't enough to make us change course. After reading Jytte Klausen's manuscript last spring, I picked up the phone and told her how much I admired the book but that I remained ambivalent about publishing the cartoons. The book contract did not oblige us to print the illustrations, but there had been considerable conversation about doing so. The author felt strongly that there was no risk of violence as a consequence of their publication.

Still, I had my doubts and brought the case to the university. I am not a security expert and did not feel that we could be cavalier about the risks on campus and to the larger Yale international community. We knew from Klausen's own chronology that the original publication in 2005 of the cartoons by the Danish newspaper led to a series of violent incidents worldwide and over 200 deaths. Republication of the cartoons has repeatedly resulted in violence, as recently as June 2008, some three years after the original publication and long after the images had been made available on the Internet.

On behalf of the Yale Press, the university consulted a number of senior academics, diplomats, and national security experts. The overwhelming judgment of the experts with the most insight about the threats of violence was that there existed an appreciable chance of violence occurring if either the cartoons or other depictions of the Prophet Muhammad were printed in a book about the cartoons published by Yale University Press.

In the end, I decided that the press would omit the images, knowing that this was the kind of decision that could not be made without negative consequences. Many people feel that my choice was impolitic or politically incorrect or just plain wrong. Yet I believe it was the responsible, principled, practical, and right thing to do. And, again, the press did not suppress any original content.

In the widespread debate that has followed, the author has tried hard to redirect the conversation back to the issues described in the book. So has the publisher. Instead, we seem to be locked in the very dynamic Klausen warns us about. Likening her interviews with the protagonists over the cartoons to the storytelling in the Kurosawa film Rashomon, Klausen writes, "Each understood the facts differently, and was poorly equipped to understand the motives that drove the actions of others. . . . The moral was that interpretations are more consequential than objective realities." Klausen's book will now appear at the end of this month rather than in November as originally scheduled. The author and the press are partners in publishing the book aggressively, as it deserves. Our hope is that its appearance will clarify the issues and further engage the debate.

This statement by John Donatich originally appeared in the Yale Alumni Magazine's November/December 2009 issue.