Why Did Yale Censor the Danish Cartoons?

Jytte Klausen, a Danish professor of political science at Brandeis University, submitted her manuscript, "The Cartoons that Shook the World" to Yale University Press. The publications committee there unanimously and enthusiastically recommended it for publication. The Press' legal counsel approved of it as well. The book discusses the political ramifications of the 12 cartoons depicting Mohammed which were printed in Denmark in 2005. Sometime in July 2009, Professsor Klausen was invited for a cup of coffee with Yale University Press.

Later, the Professor was told that Linda Lorimer, Vice President and Secretary of the University, and Marcia Inhorn, chairman of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale and a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, and the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, would be joining them. Conducting research in Lebanon in 2003, she was escorted around by Hezbollah. Inhorn had traveled to Iran during the February-March 2006 rioting staged to protest the cartoons. 

When the four of them met on July 23, the Yale officials informed Klausen that the book could only be published without the cartoons. Klausen was also asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. Since she did not, Yale University would not permit her to read the 14 page memorandum. 

Yale also removed from the book all pictorial representations of Muhammad, including a 19th Century painting by Doré, which painting had never caused any violence or led to any threats at all, apparently caving in to Sharia (Islamic law) that there shall be no depiction of Muhammad.

Yale boasts a statue to the martyred American Revolutionary patriot Nathan Hale on its campus. Yale has served as training ground for a large number of American presidents, senators and congressmen, and justices. Yale, whose seal reads "Light and Truth" in Latin and Hebrew, has gone dark.

Cary Nelson, the President of American Association of University Professors (AAUP), quickly responded on August 13 with a biting letter, "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands." Yale's action struck the AAUP as creating much more harm.  Yale violated "an author's academic freedom and [damaged] the reputation of the press and the university." These actions would impact "other university presses and publication venues" and "[had] the potential to encourage broader censorship of speech by faculty members or other authors."

Who did make the decision to censor the publication and remove the cartoons? Yale University owns and controls Yale University Press. Yale University, through the Office of the President, Richard Levin, contacted two dozen people, including academics, commentators, and diplomats about publishing cartoons. At least one, Sheila Blair, who holds the Calderwood Chair in Fine Arts at Boston College and is an expert in Islamic art, "strongly urged" their publication. Not confirming that he was one of those formally consulted by Levin's office, Ambassador John Negroponte said that he agreed with the decision fearing more violence.  Not violence at Yale that he was worried about, but that in Afghanistan.

A more difficult question remains: why were the cartoons censored? The leading explanation is that Yale was going after donations from the Saudis. Linda Lorimer, Vice President and Secretary of Yale University, freely admitted to Klausen that she had frequented Saudia Arabia.

President Levin initiated in 2001 Yale's World Fellowship Program, which according to Yale has become its signature international leadership program. For the first time, in 2009 Yale chose a Saudi, Muna Abu Sulayman, who directed the Al-Waleed Bin Talal Foundation.  In 2001, Mayor Rudy Giuliani rejected a $10 million donation offered by Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal for recovery following the 9/11 terror attacks.  Prince Al-Waleed stated the United States "should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause." Prince Al-Waleed donated $20 million each to Harvard and Georgetown Universities to establish centers for Islamic studies and "interfaith dialogue."  In awarding her fellowship, Yale cited Abu Salayman for her social activism.

More troubling, Prince Al-Waleed has also supported the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).  The Investigative Project on Terrorism has reported extensively that ISNA has ties with Hamas, as does CAIR.

The motive(s) for President Levin to instruct or approve Yale University Press' censorship remain obscure (no lux and no veritas) largely due to the lack of transparency in the decision. The overt explanation was that publication of the cartoons would incite violence. The director of Yale University Press was concerned about Yale security. On the other hand, Ambassador Negroponte did not think that likely.

The Yale Corporation, includes ex officio the President of Yale and Governor of Connecticut. Its members also include several lawyers: Gerhard Casper, a constitutional law professor and former President of Stanford; Margaret Marshall, the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court; Barrington Parker, Jr, federal appeals court judge for the Second Circuit. Three members of the media also serve: Margaret Warner, correspondent for PBS' Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Jeffrey Bewkes, CEO of Time-Warner, and Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and host on CNN.

Fareed Zakaria told Yale that publishing the images would provoke violence. He said to the Associated Press, "in this instance Yale Press (sic) was confronted with a clear threat of violence and loss of life." However, the cartoons have been published in the west and are available through the internet. Little violence, if any, has occurred in the United States.

Among the 12 cartoons published four years ago, one cartoon portrayed Mohammed with a bomb as his turban. Demonstrations and rioting did ensue, but nothing on the scale of Muslim youths in the French suburbs during Ramadan (and unrelated to the cartoons). The Danish embassy was attacked in Damascus, and its embassy was burned down in Syria-controlled Lebanon. Still, the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, refused to apologize for the publications.

At the end of August, two Yale alumni, Michael Steinberg of Washington, DC and Seth Corey, a medical school professor in Chicago, met over dinner (Shallots in Skokie, IL) and initiated a plan to write a protest letter to the monthly Yale Alumni Magazine and request that Yale University Press print the cartoons. Michael Steinberg, a Washington, DC lawyer, drafted the letter and circulated it among Yale alumni. Ambassador John Bolton and David Frum, former George W. Bush speechwriter, both signed. The signers were Yale alumni, students, and former faculty members and represented the spectrum in political and religious views.

The Yale Daily News obtained a copy of the draft and labeled the protest as coming from a cabal of Yale conservatives. The student newspaper subsequently corrected the headline, noting that the group was non-partisan. Cary Nelson, who started the public outcry, describes himself as a union activist, anti-War (Vietnam) protestor, and interested in  "preserving the cultural heritage of the American Left." The noted American civil liberties lawyer and Harvard professor, Alan Dershowitz has also weighed in against Yale in censorship the cartoons. Dershowitz called Yale's censorship a "frightening" precedent.

This account is based on investigative reporting by Roger Kimball, an Associated Press release, and material posted by the AAUP and others on the internet.