The Book That Shook Yale

Historians in the News

Late last month, Jytte Klausen, a professor of politics at Brandeis University, addressed a crowded room at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington. She began by reading from the author's statement that appears at the front of her new book, The Cartoons That Shook the World (Yale University Press), to be published this month. An account of the global crisis that erupted in 2005 when a Danish newspaper published 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, the book itself was at the center of a crisis this past summer when the press announced it would not reprint the cartoons.

"Muslim scholars, friends, and political activists and leaders urged me to include the cartoons in the book with the purpose of encouraging reasoned analysis and debate on the cartoon episode," the author told her audience. "I agreed with sadness to the press's decision not to print the cartoons and other hitherto uncontroversial illustrations featuring images of the Muslim prophet." Klausen, who has short blond hair and a tight, expressionless face, stopped reading and looked up at the audience. "It is obviously a strange situation for an author to end up becoming another chapter in her own book," she said. "Maybe this happens to novelists, but it usually doesn't happen to social scientists."

Klausen's journey from author to subject began in July, when she was informed by John E. Donatich, director of the Yale press, that all illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad would be removed from her forthcoming book out of concern that they might provoke violence. "I threw up my hands," an obviously incredulous Klausen recalled during a recent interview. Yale's decision, made public in The New York Times in August, has been heatedly debated. "This misguided action established a dangerous precedent that threatens academic and intellectual freedom around the world," warned the National Coalition Against Censorship. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, called the press's action "fundamentally cowardly." Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California at Riverside, withdrew his blurb from the book.

Klausen is plainly exhausted by the controversy. "It has been hard to see the book being sucked into the same polarization that took place around the cartoons." She does not support Sarah Ruden, a poet and classicist who has previously published with Yale, who has called for academics to boycott the press. The press has already suffered, Klausen says. "Why pile it on?"...
Read entire article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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