Cary Nelson’s statement:
“We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands.” That is effectively the new policy position at Yale University Press, which has eliminated all visual depictions of the Prophet Muhammad from Jytte Klausen’s new book The Cartoons That Shook the World. Yale made the unusual decision not only to suppress the twelve 2005 Danish cartoons that sparked organized protests in many countries but also historical depictions of Muhammed like a 19th-century print by Gustave Dore. They are not responding to protests against the book; they and a number of their consultants are anticipating them and making or recommending concessions beforehand.
In an action that parallels prior restraint on speech, Yale also refused to give the author access to consultants’ reports unless she agreed in writing not to discuss their contents. Such reports typically have their authors’ names removed, but a prohibition against discussing their content is, to say the least, both unusual and objectionable.
Publishers often refuse to print color illustrations to save money or limit the number of black and white illustrations to reduce the length of a book, but Yale Press has not raised any financial issues here. The issues are: 1) an author’s academic freedom; 2) the reputation of the press and the university; 3) the impact of these twin decisions on other university presses and publication venues; 4) the potential to encourage broader censorship of speech by faculty members or other authors. What is to stop publishers from suppressing an author’s words if it appears they may offend religious fundamentalists or groups threatening violence? We deplore this decision and its potential consequences.