Expert Confronts Author On “Killer” Cartoons

by Thomas MacMillan | October 2, 2009 8:25 AM | | Comments (21)

In the wake of a literary tempest, the author of a controversial new book about Islam came face to face with a man responsible for, in some critics’ view, censoring her work.

The exchange came during the question and answer period following a Thursday evening talk by author Jytte Klausen, whose new book, “The Cartoons That Shook The World”, was recently published by Yale University Press. The book analyzes the international controversy and violence that erupted in 2005 and 2006 after a Danish newspaper published cartoon depictions of the prophet Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic faith.

Another controversy was touched off earlier this year when those same images were not published.

Yale started a national debate this summer when it decided at the last minute to print Klausen’s book without including reproductions of the Danish cartoons. The press said that it feared that the images could lead to violence, as they did when first published in Denmark. The choice to pull the images was made under the advice of a number of experts, including Joseph Cumming, who stood up on Thursday to defend his decision to redact the images.

Click the play arrow at the top of this story to watch the exchange.

Cumming, the director of the Reconciliation Program at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, said that publication of the images could incite violence that would pose a threat to the lives of Christians in Islamic countries like Pakistan and Nigeria.

Saying that she “profoundly” disagreed, Klausen argued the cartoons are not the real source of violence, that terrorists are in the business of committing violent acts, with or without cartoons.

Klausen’s lecture was scheduled to begin at 7:45 p.m., but was delayed by an economics exam in the auditorium at 1 Prospect St., followed by a security sweep as two police dogs sniffed the area for danger. There was no security check of the dozens of audience members who filed into the lecture hall to take their seats.

The event, which was put on by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, was the second of two related talks on Thursday at Yale. Danish cartoonist, Dane Kurt Westergaard, who drew one of the offending cartoons, spoke at 4 p.m. at Branford College.

100109_TM_0031.jpgKlausen (pictured) began by explaining that she would not be lecturing about Yale’s decision to remove the cartoons. Instead, she presented her analysis of underlying causes of the cartoon conflict.

“It was from the start, a diplomatic conflict,” Klausen said. The conflict was never solely about the cartoons, she explained. The cartoons were tools used by political figures — including imams in Denmark, and members of Egyptian government — to stoke controversy for political gain, she said.

Klausen did not defend the cartoons, which she projected on a large screen for the audience to see. She said that the cartoonists’ depictions of Mohammad were a deliberate provocation that fed into many Arab stereotypes and were part of a larger trend of negative press about Muslims in Denmark.

While her lecture had intentionally avoided the subject of Yale yanking the cartoons from her book, that was the main topic that audience members wanted to know about during the Q&A session. Taking a pragmatic stance, Klausen made it clear that she disagreed with Yale’s decision to pull the images, but she said she was unwilling to take up “political activism” over the issue.

“Did you attempt to find another publisher for this book?” asked a woman who said she is an author with Yale University Press. She said Duke University is planning to publish the cartoons in a “protest volume.”

“Well, I’m not interested in participating in protest,” Klausen replied. “My purpose was never to have my book get sucked back into the same vortex that gave fuel to the original crisis.”

“I really do not want to get engaged on political activism on this issue,” she said. “My purpose is to have a calm and reasoned debate and I would like to try to do that despite the furor that has gone on.”

A woman who identified herself as a scientist asked, “What do you think is the scientific value of your book without the cartoons? It’s like to publish a scientific paper without data.”

Acknowledging that the First Amendment does not apply to private institutions, Klausen said, “but there’s a first amendment issue in this case in a different way, and that is that my readers have for sure been affected by this, and there is a harm.”

Answering a different question, Klausen said, “Yale University panicked. I think my own data was used to justify the decision that it was too dangerous to publish the images.”

“I became a chapter in my own book,” she said. “I wish that it had been different.”

Allan Canaan, a researcher at Yale, rose to ask a question, “When you publish a book, as the person who wrote it, this is your child. And you are willing to cripple it, knowing that those cartoons are important for the reader to relate to what you are saying … don’t you see that this is a very negative development that academic freedom, a university’s behavior, is dictated by fear?”

“If I had gone off in a huff and a puff and said, ‘OK, I’m going to take my book under my arm, I’m going to walk out with my manuscript,’ we would not be sitting here right now, that book would not have seen the daylight for another year or more and I would have been just another author looking for a publisher,” Klausen responded.

Asked about the specifics of the decision-making process at Yale, Klausen said that she was not privy to it. “I can only really refer you to an interview in the Yale Daily News with John Negroponte, who was one of the first experts consulted,” she said. She quoted Negroponte as suggesting that any violence provoked by the publication of the cartoons was likely to take place in places like Kabul, Afghanistan, rather than on the Yale campus.

“I had an instant image of raging mobs in the streets of Kabul, waving my book,” Klausen joked, and the audience chuckled along with her.

Klausen’s joke prompted Joseph Cumming to stand and speak out. He introduced himself as one of the experts who advised Yale not to publish the cartoons. “I’m thinking of people I know who were killed because of the publication of these cartoons,” he said. “And I would appreciate if you would not laugh at those people and what they and their families have suffered.”

Cumming later explained that he used to direct a humanitarian aid agency in North Africa where he had witnessed anti-Christian violence firsthand.

“Well nice to meet you,” replied Klausen. “This is not a Muslim versus non-Muslim conflict, obviously I disagree profoundly with you.”

“It wasn’t actually the cartoons that killed people. Al Qaeda is in the bombing business,” she said. “It’s the bombing that comes first, it’s the reasons that come second.” The audience responded with a round of applause, concluding the talk.

On his way out of the auditorium, Cumming again talked about his advice to Yale that the images not be published. “I won’t say with 100 percent certainty that there would have been a violent reaction” if the cartoons had been published, he said. “But it would not have been directed at Yale.” It would have been directed at Christians and non-Christians living in places like Palestine, Nigeria, and Pakistan, he said.

“We have a right to put our own lives at risk,” he said. “But it’s irresponsible” to put others’ at risk.

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Posted by: Shafiq Abdussabur | October 2, 2009 9:05 AM

Good Job Yale!! Connecticut has very good interfaith relationships and New Haven has become a fine example of the way religions can come together to work towards improving society for all. We do not need or can afford individuals who seek to become famous or implore their "get rich scams" at the expense of distracting our New Haven Religious Community form our bigger vision.

Even this article was too much attention for a cartoon scrapbook. Cartoons are art. Maybe the author and presenters should try doing this in a gallery or a comic book store.

Posted by: Bruce | October 2, 2009 9:33 AM

I think the furor over these cartoons has passed and I highly doubt that their publication would have caused another Muslim uproar. They are widely available on the internet.

Posted by: Bill | October 2, 2009 10:10 AM

Distasteful as the cartoons may have been to the religious sensitivities of some, supression by Yale or any authority is in fact censorship, and a violation of basic rights by any resonsonable standard. Muslims, as well as any other identifiable religous, ethnic, politcal or cultural group are underinformed and mislead if they do not understand how they are percieved throughout the world by supporters as well as critics. that Denmark was going through a questionable reactionary phase with respect to the muslim minority makes it even more important to get these perceptions into the public arena.

Posted by: Tim Holahan [TypeKey Profile Page] | October 2, 2009 10:16 AM

First, I want to thank the Independent for providing excellent coverage of an important and complex issue.

Mr. Cumming's point is an emotional one, but ultimately unfair: Klausen and the rest of the audience were not laughing at people who'd been killed in the 2004 riots. They were laughing at the idea of fanatics claiming to be motivated by the publication of a work of scholarship published in New Haven. Klausen's response is measured and responsible.

Someone who is prepared to kill a fellow man, woman, or child because of their religion is going to find a reason to do so. The publication of an academic text in New Haven will not cause or prevent it.

I hope that open-minded people of the Muslim faith can understand that Klausen is practicing her creed, one peculiar to humanistic scholarship: she believes that the presentation and examination of ideas, whether in language or imagery, cannot be harmful to the human mind or spirit. To examine what happened when these cartoons were published, she felt it was important that they be presented as part of the story. The intent was not to give offense any more than a Muslim or Christian practicing their creed intends to offend someone who doesn't share it.

As I understand them, I share Klausen's beliefs; I think that the free exchange of ideas is and always has been the most widely-attacked doctrine in the world, far more than the specific tenets of Islam or Christianity. I like to think of Yale and other great universities as champions of this idea; while I don't think Yale could have or should have been compelled to print the cartoons, I wish it had had the courage to do so.

Posted by: Mister Jones | October 2, 2009 10:28 AM

Available on the internet is different than published by Yale, thus likely to get more attention, as it already has. None of us can predict whether this would have flown under the radar of the ideologues. While I would have preferred to have seen the book complete, I can understand the publisher not wanting blood on its hands.

Posted by: JR | October 2, 2009 10:30 AM

I profoundly disagree with Shafiq Abdussabur. This book is a scholarly work, not a get rich scam. Please. To refuse to publish the cartoons -- which are easily available all over the internet on dozens if not hundreds of sites -- is to play into the hands of the extremist minority within Islam, who try to argue that these cartoons are so inherently inflammatory that any they somehow justify violence.

Yale Press made the wrong decision here. Yale's values of dispassionate scholarly inquiry, and academic freedom, were not well served, as Klausen points out.

Posted by: el pollo local | October 2, 2009 11:10 AM

Cartoons don't kill people...people kill people.

Posted by: Ned | October 2, 2009 11:50 AM

Religion is a scam, if not a "get rich scam" and religion certainly is not a friend of freedom of thought, action or conscience.

Posted by: cba | October 2, 2009 12:22 PM

Where these students when christian churches were desecrated ? If they want respect for their religion perhaphs, they should restrain the radical elements in Islam!!!!!!!

Posted by: alice | October 2, 2009 1:07 PM

Thank you for a fair and thorough report on this event, which we would otherwise not have known about. You do a fine job of keeping the community informed. Keep going!

Posted by: Ned | October 2, 2009 2:01 PM

And right on the eve of Blasphemy Day International. Hooray!

Posted by: Jim Blunt | October 2, 2009 2:45 PM

Those of your who are criticizing Yale, Cummings, Negroponte, etc., do you realize that Yale wisely sought the advice of these two men and others who are globally considered and respected as experts on Islamic world and Islamic culture.

While I am sure Ms. Klausen is a brilliant person, she is not an expert in the area of Islam which is why Yale Press disregarded her request to have the cartoons included.

Also, there is a huge difference between finding these cartoons on the web in 1,000 different places and a globally respected institution choosing to republish them.

I am puzzled by some of you who are obviously minimally informed or completely ignorant of the Islamic faith siding with Ms. Klausen.

For those of you who agree with her that "this is not a Muslim vs. non-Muslim conflict," do you remember what happened surrounding the Miss World Contest in Nigeria in 2002? A reporter, Isioma Daniel, for a newspaper called ThisDay wrote ONE STATEMENT in her report leading up to the pageant:

"What would Muhammad think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them"

The resulting Muslim riots resulted in the deaths of 400 - 500 "non-Muslims," 1,000+ homes being destroyed, all of the contestants had to be immediately flown out of the country at 3:30 am and the pageant had to be relocated to London. All over the IDEA that Mohammad would EVER POSSIBLY CONSIDER marrying an infidel (a non-Muslim). This was NOT a political response that was incited by opportunist fanatical Islamic leaders, Al Qaeda, etc. These were common people responding passionately to what they believe is one of the ultimate blasphemies, that of Mohammed the Prophet. If you think these issues are petty to most Muslims, visit a Mosque sometime and try walking in with your shoes on. Once you are in toss a Koran onto the floor. If you really want to test the waters, tell someone a joke about Mohammed. In this country you MIGHT will probably just get thrown out. If you do that in most other countries, even a place like the UK, you will be beaten to death or within an inch of your life.

The pinnacle of Klausen defense seems to be:
"...Al Qaeda is in the bombing business,” she said. “It’s the bombing that comes first, it’s the reasons that come second.”

Anyone who thinks that Al Qaeda NO predetermined REASON for "bombing" should not even be viewed as credible to speak on the subject. Agree with the reason or disagree with it, the "reason(s)" came before 911.

Yes people kill people, but ideologies drive our responses to the things we find offensive. Consider Mr. Cummings final statement:

“I won’t say with 100 percent certainty that there would have been a violent reaction” if the cartoons had been published, he said. “But it would not have been directed at Yale.” It would have been directed at Christians and non-Christians living in places like Palestine, Nigeria, and Pakistan, he said.

“We have a right to put our own lives at risk,” he said. “But it’s irresponsible” to put others’ at risk.

Posted by: kamb | October 3, 2009 12:55 AM

If these religious cartoons were aimed at Christianity this debat would not even be taking place.

Why do we treat Muslims like they are 'off-limits' to the same jokes, and cartoons other religions have been going through?

What are you people afraid that some muslim is going to get mad and blow something up?

Posted by: lexi | October 3, 2009 3:29 PM

Why hasn't the NHI added these cartoon's to the article?

Posted by: James | October 3, 2009 3:56 PM

I have to agree with KAMB. What is the justification for self censorship to avoid the irrational and immoral reaction of others? Are we displaying sensitivity or fear? Normally when a radical religious group makes absurd demands about how the world conducts them selves with respect to their one true religion, we call them nutjobs and go about our business. But when Islam is involved, we're not free to explore topics or express ourselves because masses of brainwashed zealots might go apeshit? While your response is very well worded, Mr. Blunt, I have to say that it boils down to "don't do that or someone will throw a tantrum." You seem to argue that the fact that these people will react violently justifies their violent reaction. It's a rather circular argument. People the world over hold passionate beliefs. The difference here is that decent, rational people do not mindlessly lash out and kill when their sensibilities have been offended.

Actually, Mr. Blunt, come on over to my house and repeat your assertion that these passionate people will beat one to within an inch of their lives and should, therefore, be treated with reverence. Because that notion is so repulsive to me that, well, I just might react passionately. Maybe incite a riot, since I don't like what you said. So maybe you should stop voicing your opinion. Because people might get hurt.

PS. That's sarcasm and parody though juxtaposition. Not a threat.

Posted by: Jack | October 3, 2009 4:02 PM

Having to Tolerate Speech, Art, and Political Opinion that you find Personally Offensive, is the price that must be paid in order to live in a Free Society. Any attempt to Censer this, is an attack on the Liberty of everyone.

Posted by: JR | October 4, 2009 6:32 PM

Jim Blunt wrote, "While I am sure Ms. Klausen is a brilliant person, she is not an expert in the area of Islam which is why Yale Press disregarded her request to have the cartoons included."

In fact Ms. Klausen's IS an "expert in the area of Islam." She teaches courses specifically about Islam and the current conflict between radical Islamists and the West; she has written numerous articles on Islamic politics and the intergration of Muslims into European nations and related topics. Her area of expertise is the reason she wrote this book, whose entire subject was the story of why there was such a violent response to the publication of these cartoons. It might be the case that there is no single person in the world who is more expert on the question of why these cartoons, in particular, led to violence. (I say this because no one else has written an entire book on this precise question to be published by a major academic press.)

So, if Klausen is in fact an expert -- as she had to be, or Yale would never have published this book in the first place -- then why did Yale Press go around her back and consult this series of other experts regarding the question of whether to print the cartoons in the book? And why did Yale Press do so in such a subtrefuge-like way, refusing to let Klausen even read the report these new experts produced? I think the reason is pretty obvious. Some person or persons in a relatively high position of authority at Yale questioned Klausen's judgment and wished to avoid the potential liability that they feared might result from publishing the cartoons in the book, if in fact the book became an excuse or occasion for violence somewhere in the world (or hatred directed at Yale or Yale Press). I have no doubt that the experts Yale Press found were sincere, but they told Yale what Yale wanted to hear. They provided an excuse to do a cowardly thing -- to enact another chapter in the shameful history of confused self-censorship that empowers radicalism and violence by taking the claims of violent radicals far too seriously.

Posted by: this is a shame | October 5, 2009 10:10 AM

Ms. Klausen IS an expert on the question of whether the cartoons should be published, and Yale acknowledged this. She is more familiar with the issue than negroponte et al, who did not even read the book.

Yale gave way to its exagerated sense of how prominent and central Yale is to world affairs.

As this Klausen controversy broke, a cartoon that was protested in newspapers when it appeared, was hanging in a show at the Newseum in Wash DC. In that context, it was not protested because it is not hanging in the show as a protest agaisnt elements in the muslim community, like the Danish cartoons were when they were published.

CAIR, the coucil for american islamic relations, in Wash DC, which protests cartoons such as these in newspapers or other non-critical contexts, had no objection to the images appearing in and being analyzed in Klausen's book or to the cartoon hanging in the Newseum show in DC. CAIR itself re-publishes controversial cartoons on its web site in order to dicuss them.

The News Hour on PBS displayed three of Danish cartoons during its segment on the cartoon violence when that violence was going on. the NewsHour was not bombed.

Yale's experts were not even aware of this, stating repeatedly only that No american newspaper published them. they did no fact checking, no homework. They provide off the cuff advice without a care as to whether it is expert or not.

This is a european problem that Yale is hastening to our shores where it just doesn't exist. We don't have the ethnic and religious polarities fueling tensions in many european countries.

Posted by: Ned | October 7, 2009 8:35 AM

On the other hand, Yale welcomed a Taliban member to its campus. Maybe Yale was concerned that the cartoons might offend his delicate sensibilities? Makes you wonder?

Posted by: Joe Rentsom | October 8, 2009 10:32 AM

Shame on Yale for their disgraceful censorship. And it does Islam no favor by showing such fear. It only emboldens the extremists who claim all of Islam is theirs. You can't say Islam is the "religion of peace" and then say you have to censor cartoons about Muhammad because you're afraid those peaceful people will murder you. This entire "controversy" over the Danish cartoons demonstrated without a doubt how retrograde Islam currently is compared to Christianity and Judiasm, and how it must be dragged--kickin and screaming--into the 20th Century, let alone the 21st.

Posted by: lexi | October 15, 2009 5:22 PM

this says it all:

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