Jytte Klausen: Should Yale University Press have removed images from the Danish cartoon controversy?

Professor Jytte Klausen analyses and criticises Yale University Press’s decision to remove images of Muhammad from her scholarly book on the Danish cartoons controversy.

In 2009, Danish-born scholar Jytte Klausen published a book called The Cartoons that Shook the World, documenting and analysing the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. Conspicuously absent from the book were … the cartoons that shook the world. Yale University and its Press decided against publishing an already prepared sheaf of illustrations, which included reproductions of the original page of Jyllands-Posten and historic depictions of Muhammad, citing foreign policy, national security and safety concerns (26secs). “Under duress”, Klausen reluctantly agreed to the removal of the images, on condition that a statement with Yale’s explanation and her response to it would be included in the book. Klausen has never seen the internal experts’ report to which the university referred in justifying its decision.

Before publication, Klausen visited prominent Muslim scholars around the world to ask for their opinions on republishing the images. Those she visited said the controversy was never about the images themselves but rather about “what they said about who Muslims are and what they think” (8mins 13secs). Klausen says her purpose in wishing to republish the cartoons in their original newspaper context was entirely educational – “it was certainly not to provoke” (11mins 19secs).

Klausen believes the taboo against reproducing images of the Prophet Muhammad is being asserted only by extreme sections of Islamist movements and that Yale’s refusal to republish the illustrations only reinforced such groups in their militancy (12mins 41secs). She also describes the magazine Index on Censorship’s decision not to republish the cartoons as “a parody”. “It was becoming a comedy of errors. Fear is very contagious. It really became a moral panic. There was an exaggerated, inflated sense of risk,” she says (17mins 44 secs). Klausen never faced any threats in writing her book and says the republished cartoons would have brought no serious risk of violence. “When you suppress something like the illustrations in my book…you are taking something away from readers. You are denying access to important information and by denying that access, you shut down dialogue,” she says (29mins 46secs).

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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