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Controversy Stirs Over Yale Press Decision to Remove Image Depictions of the Prophet Muhammad From Text

In her forthcoming book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, Brandeis University professor of comparative politics Dr. Jytte Klausen examines the impact of 12 controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad originally published in Denmark in 2005. The cartoons sparked significant protests as well as violent reactions, which led to approximately 200 deaths.

Last week, the New York Times broke the story that Klausen had been advised by her publisher, Yale University Press, that the 12 Danish drawings would not appear in the book. Other images of Muhammad have also been removed.

“The (Yale University) Press hopes that her excellent scholarly treatment of the Danish cartoon controversy will be read by those seeking deeper understanding of its causes and consequences,” read a statement by Yale University Press provided to Diverse by Tom Conroy, deputy director of public affairs for Yale University.

“After careful consideration, the Press has declined to reproduce the Sept. 30, 2005 Jyllands-Posten newspaper page that included the cartoons as well as other depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

“Republication of the cartoons—not just the original printing of them in Denmark—has repeatedly resulted in violence around the world.”

Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam, and asserts all recommended the images be removed. Dr. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, who issued a statement denouncing the decision to remove the images, disputes that. He said he received an e-mail from one of the consultants, an authority on Islamic art, who urged the illustrations be published.

“Over a period of centuries, Muslim artists have depicted Muhammad in a variety of ways,” Nelson said. “It’s not as if the history of Muslim art precludes depictions of Muhammad. So Yale’s position answers the most conservative minority of Muslims, which would say it is an affront to attempt to depict Muhammad at all.”

Klausen responded via e-mail to Diverse, indicating she advised Yale University Press that removal of the images could spark a backlash.

“I think the attention is in this case focused not on the cartoons but on how we manage fear and risk, particularly because it is now about any image of the prophet,” she wrote. “Note that among the images removed were one designed to illustrate the contrast between how some of the cartoons portrayed the prophet (other cartoons did not represent the prophet at all) and the traditional Muslim way of portraying the prophet with a veil over his face and as a statesman.”

Nelson said he was most offended that Yale University Press told Klausen she could read the consultants’ report only if she agreed not to talk about it publicly.

“It’s completely out of the norm,” said Nelson, who has 26 books to his credit. “I don’t know of anything comparable. I’ve been a faculty member for 40 years and I have never heard of a press demanding that an author not discuss the contents of consultant reports or that an author be required to pledge not to discuss them before receiving a copy.”

He added it is not uncommon to delete the names of the consultants, so an author may not know who said what.

The statement by Yale University Press noted a recommendation from Ibrahim Gambari, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, saying violence would ensue from publication of the images.

“Given the quantity and quality of the expert advice Yale received, the author consented, with reluctance, to publish the book without any of these visual images,” read the statement.

Klausen, who has studied Islamic politics extensively, said the book will be published in November with an editor’s note and author’s note stating that the illustrations were removed and “our agreement to disagree about the necessity.”

“Yale UP is a terrific press despite our disagreement, and I hope the text of my book will be able to make my argument clear,” she said.

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