Yale University is under fire for removing 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad from an upcoming book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” written by Brandeis University Jytte Klausen, about how they caused outrage across the Muslim world. The university has drawn sharp criticism from prominent alumni and the American Association of University Professors, a national group of university professors. Yale cited fears of violence for its decision to remove the cartoons. A Danish newspaper originally published the cartoons in 2005, which included one depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Other Western publications reprinted them. Caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad was disrespectful and I am sure had that been done to Pope Benedict XVI, there would be outrage, but most likely no violence.
The cartoons triggered massive protests from Morocco to Indonesia in 2006. Rioters torched Danish and other Western diplomatic missions and some Muslim countries boycotted Danish products. Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
A protest letter, which was sent to Yale Alumni Magazine, was signed 25 alumni including John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, David Frum, former Bush administration speechwriter and Seth Corey, urged the university to restore the drawings to the book. Yale University Press said it decided to exclude the cartoons after asking the university of assistance on this issue. The university said it consulted counterterrorism officials, diplomats and the top Muslim official at the United Nations.
In one sense, I can completely understand the position of the university’s critics. I believe deeply in the First Amendment and academic freedom, but do we really need to incite violence over the cartoons? I remember when Salman Rushdie was condemned to death by the former Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on February 14, 1989, after publishing “Satanic Verses.” It was nothing more than a hijacking of literary expression. He had to literally go underground for years. As much as I understand his right to freedom of expression, the last thing we need in this economic crisis is more violence. Under different economic circumstances, I would be all for the publishing of those cartoons. Prophet Muhammad may have been a decent and peaceful man, but there are many elements in the Muslim world that are bent on inflicting harm to Americans and those caricatures speak truth to power to those fanatics.