Disgrace: Yale removes Mohammed cartoons from book about ... Mohammed cartoons

I’m tempted to call this unbelievable but that simply wouldn’t be true. In fact, the very first words of the Times’s piece are “It’s not all that surprising.” Not only do research universities purportedly devoted to free inquiry now censor primary sources in the interest of “safety,” but I’ve experienced it myself: Imagine, if you will, the absurdity of a panel discussion about images which the audience isn’t allowed to view. It’s come to that. This is the scholarship equivalent of Yale donning a burqa to suppress the temptations its immodesty might otherwise inspire in Muslim men. Good work, academia.

Yale University and Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí…

John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said by telephone that the decision was difficult, but the recommendation to withdraw the images, including the historical ones of Muhammad, was “overwhelming and unanimous.” The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.

He noted that he had been involved in publishing other controversial books — like “The King Never Smiles” by Paul M. Handley, a recent unauthorized biography of Thailand’s current monarch — and “I’ve never blinked.” But, he said, “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”

And there you have it. It’s a small mercy, at least, that they’re making no bones about what’s driving this decision; occasionally, this sort of appeasement-by-self-censorship is dressed up as high-minded progressive “cultural sensitivity.” To see just how bad things have gotten, read the entire Times piece (which, thankfully, acknowledges that the paper itself cowered in the face of terrorism by refusing to publish the cartoons when the story broke). Not only were the “expert” recommendations that Yale should suppress the images unanimous, but not a single person quoted in the story offers a full-throated defense of a university’s obligation not to sacrifice knowledge on the altar of totalitarianism. The closest we get is Reza Aslan arguing that it’s “idiotic” to omit the cartoons now that the controversy’s died down and the risk of reprisal is low. If the risk was high, presumably he’d think differently. In lieu of an exit question, let me make a recommendation: If you know a right-wing academic or public intellectual, make sure to bring this item to his or her attention. Hopefully it’ll make them think twice about doing business with Yale in the future.