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The Cartoons That Shook Yale

Nina Shea

On October 1, Yale University is scheduled to host Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who drew the iconic caricature of Muhammad wearing a turban-bomb. The invitation to Westergaard is no doubt a response to the backlash that Yale and Yale University Press (YUP) have suffered for dropping the Danish cartoons from YUP’s new scholarly book The Cartoons That Shook the World.

Yale cited a fear of stoking Muslim violence as its reason for censoring the depictions of Muhammad. But the seriousness of that threat now is being thrown into question, given the on-campus speaking engagement of the most prominent of the cartoon “blasphemers.” It would appear that, in its decision to remove the cartoons from the book, Yale traded off freedom very lightly. None of the experts consulted by Yale were in favor of publishing the Muhammad cartoons, and none articulated a persuasive defense of freedom of speech in public statements explaining their rationale. When asked in an interview to describe the circumstances in which “concern about possible violence” should “be outweighed by the obligation to protect free speech,” even John Negroponte, former director of national intelligence and currently a senior fellow at Yale’s renowned Grand Strategy program, could give no real response beyond saying that it is a “judgment call.“ Here is an insight into why the West is losing the contest of ideas with Islamic extremism.

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