Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the publication of the Mohammed Cartoons by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten (JP). It was also Blasphemy Day drawing attention to Islamic Advocacy groups both here and throughout the ummah endeavoring to stifle free speech. Kurt Westergaard, who penned the most controversial of the 12 cartoons depicting Mohammed wearing a bomb shaped turban, is currently on tour in North America. Yesterday, he appeared at Princeton University and in New York at the Manhattan Institute. We had arranged for the Manhattan Institute event, as well as, an interview with the editors of City Journal. Westergaard was feted at a closed luncheon at the Harvard Club and had stints back at Princeton, as well as a private dinner in Manhattan last night.
Today, he will speak at the Master’s House at Yale University’s Branford College. Coincidentally, Brandeis Professor Jytte Klausen, the author of the Yale Press book, “The Cartoons that shook the World”, will also speak at an event sponsored by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA). Following, the New Haven appearance, Mr. Westergaard travels to Toronto for a series of events, including radio, press and TV interviews. Over this coming weekend, we have arranged to interview him before his departure for Denmark. We hope to publish that interview shortly in the New English Review.
The contrast in the reception of Mr. Westergaard between two Ivy league institutions, Princeton versus Yale couldn’t be more telling. The Daily Princetonian (DP) had an op ed by Westergaard in today’s edition, “Why I drew the cartoon: The 'Muhammad Affair' in retrospect, “while The Yale Daily News (YDN) had a student op ed, Ellison: A better example at Yale. The DP op ed by Westergaard was a clarion call for free speech protections, while the YDN one was a paean of praise for appeasement of darker forces. The latter was all about intimidation via threats of violence and ‘blasphemy’ calls by leftists and Muslim advocacy groups on and off campus.
Westergaard notes in the DP op ed why the JP editors commissioned and published the Mohammed cartoons and why the act was emblematic of the appropriate exercise of free speech:
In light of what has later been claimed about Jyllands-Posten’s intentions to deliberately and gratuitously offend 1.2 billion Muslims, I should point out that the paper’s rationale was a far different one. In the months leading up to the publication of the cartoons, Islamists had launched one attack on Danish free speech after another. A well-known author had been unable to find an artist who would dare to illustrate a children’s book on Muhammad. A concert was stopped by radical Muslims who claimed that music is un-Islamic. The culmination came when a lecturer of Jewish descent at Copenhagen University was abducted in broad daylight by a gang of Arabs and severely beaten for having recited from the Koran as part of his course. Nothing similar had happened during the university’s more than 525 years of history. Imagine what would happen if such a thing occurred at Princeton.
In this situation the paper felt that it was imperative to test whether we still enjoyed free speech — including the right to treat Islam, Muhammad and Muslims exactly as you would any other religion, prophet or group of believers. If we no longer had that right, one could only conclude that the country had succumbed to de facto sharia law.
Some have argued that the cartoons were unfair and should not be protected by freedom of speech. So I am often asked if do not accept that there must be limits to what one may say, write or draw. I certainly do. Free speech must have limits, but these limits should be determined by law and by precedents established by the courts. All civilized states have laws against the invasion of privacy, slander, divulging state secrets, inciting to violence and the like, and they should be respected. But my cartoon was well within the law, and nobody except for some fanatical Muslims said otherwise. As a matter of fact, 22 Muslim organizations in Denmark went to court in an attempt to get the cartoons censured. The case was thrown out as groundless.
The Ellison YDN takes a different tack and displays the shallow qualities that pervade post-modernist academic doctrine that stifles free speech. In this case, the willful deletion of the Mohammed cartoons from Ms. Klausen book published by Yale Press.
While there is the possibility that something will go dreadfully awry today and I will have spoken too soon, Yale and its students have thus far stood as a paragon of restraint amid the chaos. Unfortunately, through this international brouhaha, restraint has been the exception, not the rule.
This begins with the cartoonists. Kurt Westergaard and Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published his work, made the wrong decision. If they did not know the cartoons would result in violent uprisings, they should have known. If they did know and published them anyway, this disregard for human life is condemnable.
This is not to say that they did not have the right to publish the images. Speech intended to inflame (like a speaker at a KKK rally outside of a black church on a Sunday morning) is categorically different from making an unpopular political argument that will make others so mad that they will resort to violence. The former clearly should not be protected, but I think the latter, which describes Westergaard’s case, should be protected. Free speech includes the right to offend. But just because you have the right to do something does not mean you should do it, and Westergaard and the paper should have shown better judgment.
Yale Press made a different decision. No one disputes the fact that the cartoons’ publication would have been protected by the First Amendment. But in deciding whether to publish the images that would offend many, John Donatich, the director of the Press, carefully considered with University President Richard Levin and Secretary Linda Lorimer not whether they had a right to publish, but whether they had sufficient reason to publish.
Upon soliciting the advice of many, they made the judgment that including the images in the publication were not worth the risk of violence, which many believed was present. This seems reasonable, especially considering that anyone who wants to see the cartoons can search Google Images for “Danish Muhammad cartoons.” Yale Press is not censoring a particular viewpoint from the public; it made the right call.
Yale Press’ call, not publishing the JP cartoons in Ms. Klausen’s book, was not ‘reasonable.’ It was clearly wrong by surrendering to intimidation and rationalizing the decision on the basis of legal liabilities. Not having the courage of their convictions on protection of free speech, Yale Press and the University leadership avoided the issue by advising readers to check out the JP cartoons on-line. Ellison commits a further calumny by chastising Westergaard and the JP editors for not evidencing the consequences of publishing the Mohammed cartoons, allegedly inflaming violence within the Muslim ummah. This is a patent sign of his ignorance about the underlying facts that led the JP editors to commission Mr. Westergaard and the 11 other Danish cartoonists to draw the cartoons. By contrast Westergaard and the JP editors were the heroes in this saga by reacting to Muslim intimidation of Western values and patent anti-Semitic acts in Denmark. The real perpetrators of the violence were the three imams who traveled throughout the Muslim world presenting the Mohammed cartoons and additional fakes at fundamentalist Mosques. Their provocative actions aroused charges by Muslim clerics of blasphemy resulting in fire bombings of Danish embassies and riots causing more than 139 deaths in the Muslim world.
Today events at Yale will test the university’s mettle and alleged support for academic freedom and free speech. Against this background we commend the Master of Branford College at Yale for bringing Kurt Westergaard to the campus.