Friday, August 14, 2009

The Cartoons That Shook The University In Its Pants

Yale University Press is publishing a book titled "The Cartoons That Shook the World." The book is about the reaction and international relations nightmare that twelve cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. The university press has decided not to reprint the cartoons in the book. From a story in the NY Times:
"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."
Mr. Donatich reasoning makes no sense. A discussion of the cartoon requires the context inherent in viewing the images. Will future art history books not feature pictures of the Mona Lisa simply because images of the painting are on the internet. I understand the fear of the potential reaction from reprinting the cartoons after the reaction in 2005, but if the university is to promote a search for meaning through research, how can you ignore the catalysts of this controversy. It is thought to be forbidden in Islam to depict the prophet Mohammed.

Reza Alsan, a religious scholar and writer, wrote about the cartoons in 2006 in an essay titled, "Why I'm offended by the Mohammed cartoons":
"The fact is that Muslim anger over the caricatures derives not merely from their depiction of Mohammed. That may have upset more conservative Muslims, but it alone would not have engendered such a violent and widespread response. Rather, most Muslims have objected so strongly because these cartoons promote stereotypes of Muslims that are prevalent throughout Europe: Mohammed dressed as a terrorist, his turban a bomb with a lit fuse; Mohammed standing menacingly in front of two cowering, veiled women, unsheathing a long, curved sword; Mohammed on a cloud in heaven complaining that Paradise has run out of virgins. It is difficult to see how these drawings could have any purpose other than to offend. One cartoon goes so far as to brazenly call the prophet 'daft and dumb.'

So, while in Europe and the United States the row over the cartoons has been painted as a conflict between secular democratic freedoms and arcane religious dogma, the controversy is really about neither. Instead, it's another manifestation of the ongoing ethnic and religious tensions that have been simmering beneath the surface of European society for decades, like last year's Paris riots and the murder two years ago of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

Aslan Continues:

"No one doubts that the press should be free to satirize. But freedom of the press cannot excuse the promotion of noxious stereotypes. Jewish groups were furious when the Chicago Tribune published a cartoon in 2003 that portrayed a hunched and hooknosed Ariel Sharon salivating before a pile of money doled out to him by George W. Bush, ostensibly as an incentive to maintain the peace process. ('On second thought,' the avaricious Sharon is depicted as saying, 'the path to peace is looking brighter.') And rightly so."

The perceived offensiveness of the cartoons is not a reason for the academy to shirk the responsibility they has taken upon itself to build the marketplace of ideas, where all points of view are welcome. Even ideas known to be offensive need to looked at, analyzed and understood in order to educate.

I do not imagine that including the images would have hurt sales. This is a university press; sales are not an issue. But it does not help when one of America's most known religious scholar and particularly an Islamic Scholar calls your plan stupid. Aslan has pulled his cover blurb from the book saying:
"The book is a definitive account of the entire controversy, but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic.”
I think he is right. What do you think? Sphere: Related Content


Creeping Sharia said...

Well, despite Azlan's attempt to equivocate Muslim response to the cartoons & some Jews being offended by a cartoon of Sharon - one only need look at the actual outcome: 200+ people were killed by Muslims, embassies were shut, riots occurred, fatwa's calling for death were issued, almost all major newspapers were scared to publish the Mo'toons... most people had no clue a Sharon cartoon was even published. Not to mention that cartoons about Israel & Jews are constantly published in Muslim/Arab mediums and are equally if not more offensive and shameful than the Mo'toons. Just because we don't see them or can't understand them doesn't mean they aren't there.

Anonymous said...

Yale is taking the coward's position here for sure.

If the Islamic fascists (like those whipping up the ignorant to show up and make empty, uneducated rants at congress people over health care reform)started a frenzy to catch a wave of ignorant hatred, they must be published in context to the events.

Also, Aslan's equivocation of the cartoon outrage and those of a morally vacuous caricature of Sharon as the "greedy Jew" is reaching and does not an attach all Jews. Sharon was an opportunist and butcher all on his own...except for the support of the Israelis who think they have a right to stolen land.

Just a gentle note of criticism: Your Aslan lecture quote seems misaligned with his most recent position in the Times piece. He is now saying that although the cartoons may have been offensive caricatures in 2005, for the context of this current book, it is unacceptable NOT to print them.

I don't see your point in highlighting his opposition to the caricatures the 1st time round. If you are trying to highlight the contrast between his position then and now...and how it shows Yale to be short sighted, you depend too much on the reader to follow the links (which I have done). Not that they shouldn't follow the links, I just think you could make a stronger case and only reference the articles as support.

Always willing to accept my own shortcomings...perhaps I missed something...


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