FIRE’s Will Creeley in ‘Providence Journal’

By on September 23, 2009

Today’s edition of the Providence (R.I.) Journal contains an op-ed by FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Will Creeley criticizing Yale University over the most recent Mohammed cartoon controversy. The Yale University Press decided to remove cartoons depicting Mohammed from author and professor Jytte Klausen’s forthcoming book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, which discusses the outcry and fallout resulting from the publication of 12 editorial cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Danish newspaper in 2005. This prompted FIRE to join a dynamic coalition of civil liberties organizations in writing an open letter to Yale University President Richard C. Levin and members of the Yale Corporation.

Will’s column rightly takes Yale to task for its cowardice:

By choosing to remove all depictions of the Prophet Mohammed from Brandeis Professor Jytte Klausen’s book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, to be published by Yale University Press in early October, Yale University has betrayed academic freedom. Worse, Yale has surrendered without protest to nonexistent demands it merely imagines from those willing to kill to silence views with which they disagree.

He goes on to discuss the strange (to put it generously) way in which Yale handled the entire matter:

But shamefully, Yale then subjected Klausen to a vastly different standard of review because of the controversial subject matter of her book. Acting independently of the Yale University Press, the university broke from standard protocol and embarked on its own review, supposedly out of concern that the publication of the cartoons would provoke renewed violence.

Specifically, the university provided copies of the images contained in the work — not the work itself; just the images — to a set of individual consultants, the identities of whom the university has steadfastly refused to release. (Even Klausen has been denied access to these names without first signing a nondisclosure agreement.) Relying on the opinions of these anonymous consultants, the university decided to yank the images from the book because of what Yale Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer acknowledged was an unspecified, general fear of violence.

To make matters worse, 

Despite public ridicule and pressure, Yale refuses to acknowledge the bitter irony of publishing a book about possibly the most newsworthy cartoons in history without including the cartoons themselves. Yale argues that since the cartoons are available online, there is no need to publish them again. But this is ridiculous — who’s to say that the images on the Internet will be available 5, 10, or 50 years from now? 

Yale also argues that since the images can be described in words, publication is superfluous. This is even more foolish. Verbal descriptions of images necessarily contain their own interpretations of the image, but the power of images is their ability to convey different meanings to different audiences.

Will therefore concludes:

These mealy-mouthed excuses are shameful attempts to justify the worst kind of risk-management: the kind that sacrifices freedom for the sake of fear.

Indeed. It’s great to see The Providence Journal provide a platform for FIRE to expound on this truly important case, and I congratulate Will on his publication.

 

Schools: Yale University Cases: Yale University: Censorship of Mohammed Cartoons at Yale University Press