Martin Kramer on Yale's 'Iconoclasm'
Presumably, most readers recall the controversy that erupted when the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Denmark printed the so-called Muhammad cartoons. Radical Islamist whipped up a frenzy in the Muslim world with violent protests over depictions of their prophet that supposedly portrayed him as violent when everybody knows that Muhammad was simply a peaceful religious founder and Islam obviously a religion of peace.
Now, the scholar Jytte Klausen has written an analysis of this controversy titled The Cartoons That Shook the World, and Yale University Press is publishing it . . . but without the earthshaking cartoons! Klausen wanted the cartoons included, but Yale said (and I paraquote), 'No way! The Muslim world is far too volatile!' This despite Klausen's findings, as summarized by Yale University Press:
She concludes that the Muslim reaction to the cartoons was not -- as was commonly assumed -- a spontaneous emotional reaction arising out of the clash of Western and Islamic civilizations. Rather it was orchestrated, first by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt, and later by Islamic extremists seeking to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria.Not so volatile, after all? I guess that Yale didn't believe Klausen's analysis. Actually, I find myself only in partial agreement, based on this summary. I think that the newspapers made quite clear at the time that the Muslim reaction was orchestrated by radical Islamist, and I'd also add that Klausen's opinion to the contrary, I consider this also to have in fact been in fact a civilizational clash, for the Islamists would not have been able to instigate violent protest all over the Muslim world against the West if a tense division weren't already present.
Be that as it may, over at Sandbox, Martin Kramer has an interesting perspective on this issue of Yale's 'iconoclasm':
I don't know if publishing these images in an academic book at this time would run a "serious risk of instigating violence." Everything I do know tells me that it wouldn't. Extremists are always looking for something to exploit, but it has to be a new, unprecedented (perceived) offense against Islam. Dante's Inferno, Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, the Danish cartoons -- these are all old perceived offenses, too familiar to fire up a sense of indignation. No doubt there will be another round at some point -- and no doubt, its ostensible "cause" will surprise us all. (That's because it won't really be the cause, but a pretext -- like the Danish cartoons.)I think that he's right about this point. Including the Muhammad images in this book by Klausen would have raised little or no controversy for precisely the reasons Kramer notes. "But," as Kramer also notes, "that's neither here nor there":
The reason we have "restricted visas, travel bans and demeaning airport luggage searches" (and other disdained measures) is so that in America, a university press can publish the Danish cartoons in a book about the Danish cartoons, and do so without fear. If we didn't have that line of defense, we would constantly have to censor ourselves and ban whole classes of free expression, lest we be tormented by fanatic extremists.In other words, America is supposed to stand for free speech -- and protected free speech, at that! Yale has blinked when there was likely no glaring threat to blink at and assuredly many reasons not to blink if there even were such a threat.
Land of the free and home of the brave? Only if we keep it that way.