The Muhammad Cartoons Won’t Be Included in a Book About the Muhammad Cartoons

Almost four years ago, these cartoons of Muhammad appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and created an uproar:

Many fundamentalist Muslims took to violence because of the depictions, which they felt were forbidden according to the Koran. (Though there’s more to that explanation.)

Of course, their religious beliefs have no bearing on how the rest of us use our right to free speech. We don’t have to respect or abide by their silly rules. But due to fear, most major publications refused to publish the images.

A book about the controversy is set to be published later this year. It’s called The Cartoons That Shook the World by Jytte Klausen. It’s published by Yale University Press.

And guess what?

The publishers refuse to include the images in the book.

… [Klausen] was disturbed by the withdrawal of the other representations of Muhammad. All of those images are widely available, Ms. Klausen said by telephone, adding that “Muslim friends, leaders and activists thought that the incident was misunderstood, so the cartoons needed to be reprinted so we could have a discussion about it.”…

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.

Or maybe they’re just scared Muslims will kill them.

I would hope an academic press, of all publishers, would want to promote the idea of free speech, including speech that may offend some people. To not include images that are the very subject of the book is, as Reza Aslan says in the New York Times article, idiotic.

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  • What absolute wusses.

  • That is so ridiculous that it’s not even funny. I’d say find a better publisher, but that’s not exactly an easy thing to do…

  • If we don’t have freedom of speech, we have nothing. Fear of Islamic retaliation didn’t stop Sir Salman Rushdie, for instance. It bothers me that we bend the core principle of our society so easily.

    I am an atheist who does not believe in a life after death – yet I would die to protect that freedom, because it is more important than my life. Something I feel really strongly about.

  • Erik

    I was actually planning to put one of those cartoons in our local atheist newsletter next month. Hope I don’t get killed!

  • Lost Left Coaster

    You’re right, it is pretty ridiculous to not publish the cartoons in a book about those very cartoons.

    Otherwise, though, those cartoons are racist garbage. I’m all about critiquing religion, but not through such racist, xenophobic garbage as that. Obviously the violent reaction on the part of some people around the world was completely unwarranted, and of course the original publisher of the cartoons has freedom of speech, but seriously, those cartoons are awful. The whole point of publishing those cartoons originally (in a right wing Danish newspaper) was to give a big “f%#! you!” to Muslims living in Denmark and Europe. It didn’t appear to me to be any sort of thoughtful critique of religion.

  • Yeah, but that doesn’t matter. Taste isn’t something that we should feel intimidated by. There are thousands and thousands of books recently published that contain far worse racist diatribes than this stuff. It’s not particularly nice, no. But it should still be protected speech. Add in that they represented (through poorly drawn art) a legitimate viewpoint of many Europeans, whether or not it’s a pleasant one to consider, then regardless.

    It doesn’t matter what these people say – it only matters that they can say it.

  • Mark

    It has to do with the difference between “having a right to” and “being the right thing to do.”

    You have a right to be racist, but that doesn’t make racism the right thing to do.

  • No, and I agree with you. Racism is bad. But we get our best responses when we challenge racism in a public forum, not when we repress racists and force them to keep their beliefs internalized, or in small groups. Even if you don’t change the mind of the racists, you put strong arguments – the facts – out into the open for those who’s opinions and minds have not yet been made up.

    It’s the same thing we see with other forms of “isms”. Homophobia, of course, is the one our generation, well, my generation, seems to be struggling with. But just because people didn’t discuss their homophobia, for generations, doesn’t mean it’s gone away. And confronting homophobia in the public forum has led to slowly increasing approval ratings for the lgbt crowd.

    The marketplace of ideas is full of good and bad; we need to use the marketplace to push the bad out. That’s why it’s important these people, racist as they may be, get to say what they want.

  • Philbert

    The whole point of publishing those cartoons originally (in a right wing Danish newspaper) was to give a big “f%#! you!” to Muslims living in Denmark and Europe. It didn’t appear to me to be any sort of thoughtful critique of religion.

    As far as I know, the newspaper editors did not wake up one day and say “hey let’s offend some Muslims!” The original article was inspired by an author who could not get anyone to illustrate his biography of Mohammed. As it turned out the question of whether free speech extends to offending religious sensibilities is quite serious, as we’ve seen from the efforts in many countries to suppress “blasphemy” or “hate speech”, or to greet to threats of murder over a cartoon with a weak “well, they shouldn’t really kill people, BUT” kind of response.

  • Peregrine

    Does having the right to freedom of speech mean that we are automatically obligated to offend? It’s one thing to say that a publisher is refusing to publish certain material because they don’t have the balls to offend one demographic or another; That may be the case. But don’t they also have the right to decide for themselves what material they choose to have their company brand and image associated with?

    Here’s a tangentially related story I came across today.

    If you didn’t know who Vince Li was, you might not care. But knowing that he is the severely mentally disturbed man who decapitated and partly cannibalized someone on a bus, you might find a poster of him on public display offensive. Especially one referring to him as a “good person”.

    The public complains, and the bar removes the poster, and assures everyone that they will find the advertiser who approved it. Did the advertiser have the right to distribute the ad? Absolutely. Should they have? Probably not, because it reflects on their brand, and that of their client.

    So now that the ads are coming down, are we obligated to go out and obtain copies of them and post them on our blogs and forums too? Because Censorship! OMG! WTF!

    Freedom of speech and expression protects us from legal ramifications of accidental incursions of good taste, and from general stupidity. But that’s pretty much where it ends. You can’t be taken to court for saying something stupid or in poor taste, unless it’s slander, liable, or threatening, copyright infringement, or something like that. In some jurisdictions, there may be infractions for inciting hatred or violence, you can’t say “Bomb” in an airport, or shout “fire” in a crowded theater; that sort of thing. But that’s pretty much it. You have the right to be a rude and inconsiderate bastard. You also have the right to not be a rude and inconsiderate bastard. But you don’t have the right to not be called a rude and inconsiderate bastard for saying something rude and inconsiderate. Freedom of speech doesn’t protect you from people being pissed off.

    It’s been said that you don’t have the right to not be offended. But you do have the right to be offended, and to voice your objection to that offense. Granted, violence and destruction of property are outside the realm of acceptable discourse, but at some point that becomes more of a crowd control problem.

    And you also have the right to not say something potentially inflammatory, if you feel that it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

    So if the publisher refuses to publish the cartoons, I don’t really care. I might care if I happened to be the author, but I don’t imagine any of my work would have those particular cartoons in them. That’s their choice. The choice of the author, in that case, is either to buck up and accept it, or find another publisher.

  • geru

    If they’re not publishing the pictures, the writer could just as well just publish the covers of the book, and put a note between them that says “The publishers were too afraid to publish this book, so we left the whole content out so it wouldn’t offend anyone”. And maybe also “But feel free to fantasize what this book would have said if it had been published in a society that has the courage to respect free speech.”, or something like that.

    I think this idea of leaving the pictures out pretty much tells me what I need to know about this book anyway, so I can skip reading it altogether.

  • @Peregrine

    Of course, the publisher of this book is entitled to decline posting whatever he or she or they want, that’s part of capitalism. But there is a unique difference between what is posted at a bar and what is contained in a book – bars are identified as businesses where people go to have fun and relax, whereas publishers are part of one of the central tenements of our society. The idea that people can write books and distribute them to support a certain area of thought is core to our concept of freedom of speech. That is to say, there is a certain duty to the ideal that a publisher, or newspaper editor, or blog poster has that a bar advertiser does not. In the end, the owner of the bar is only interested in their profits, and a poor advertisement would reduce said profits. Publishers and editors and bloggers have a responsibility to the public that has been sadly forgotten by much of the current generation of journalists and bookmakers.

  • Stephen P

    Lost Left Coaster:

    Otherwise, though, those cartoons are racist garbage.

    Nonsense. Some may be a bit dubious, but others are entirely reasonable commentaries on the situation. (And I found the one about running out of virgins amusing as well as pointed.)


    It’s one thing to say that a publisher is refusing to publish certain material because they don’t have the balls … But don’t they also have the right to decide for themselves what material they choose to have their company brand and image associated with?

    Of course. If a publisher doesn’t want to publish books on political controversies, that is their good right. But that isn’t the issue here, is it? The publisher decided it would publish the book – and then leave out the very subject material that the book is all about!

  • Andrew Morgan

    I like issues like these because it brings out the “murder is bad, but…” crowd, even among atheists, who I suspect come primarily from a liberal background.

    Is it really too much to say: They had the right to publish the cartoons, and the response to them were absurd? Can’t we drop the blathering, “Yes, but…” that invariably follows?

    The fact that PEOPLE WERE MURDERED in response to the cartoons more than justifies them as being thoughtful religious criticism.

    The cartoons depict Mohammad as violent. Guess what — he was!

    The cartoons depict Muslims as violent. Guess what — they can be!

    Atheists will say that Catholics are child molesters and that Evangelicals are knuckle-dragging, women-hating ignoramuses, but apparently saying (not without justification, either!) that Muslims the world over have violent tendencies is too much for some.

  • @Peregrine:

    I don’t think the publisher chose not to publish the images because they don’t want to be associated with them. If they did publish the images it wouldn’t be to promote them, but to display them objectively as a significant piece of history, which they are. For example, Wikipedia, with a NPOV policy, displays them.

    They won’t publish the images because they are afraid of violent retaliation. They are being compelled by force to not exercise their rights. This is a grave injustice to liberty. That’s why I am bothered by this.

  • Sackbut

    “To not include images that are the very subject of the book is, as Reza Aslan says in the New York Times article, idiotic.”

    This is the most pertinent point, to me. I think the publisher’s actions are idiotic.

    I have seen books on history that include political cartoons, some of which are very offensive, racist, and occasionally pornographic. It’s part of the material. That’s the point of printing them.

    I could see, maybe, choosing not to publish the cartoons if they were incidental, merely illustrations or unimportant examples. I cannot see excluding these high-profile examples of “cartoons that shook the world” from a book on that very subject, especially given that they are discussed in the book.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    What I’m pushing back against is the idea that seemed to take hold after the cartoons were published that the cartoons themselves were actually good. They were crap. I have never authored a “murder is bad, but…” statement regarding the violence that followed those cartoons, and I don’t see anyone else on here saying “murder is bad, but…” Straw man argument; not appreciated.

    Also: haven’t seen a single person here argue that the cartoons should have somehow been prevented from being published by a governmental authority. That is a fringe position that I’ve rarely seen expressed, outside of the angry protesters. And who here is agreeing with them? Of course it is insane to respond to cartoons with violence and arson! No duh. Just because I called the cartoons racist doesn’t mean that I support angry and violent protests. Of course I don’t.

    “Who I suspect come primarily from a liberal background…” good job Sherlock! I’m guilty as charged. I’m a liberal. And a lifelong atheist.

    Critiquing Islam as a religion is great. But it often (I would even say usually) devolves into xenophobia and racism. And that offends me, and I don’t think that is constructive.

    And you can’t separate all this from the context of the fact that the United States is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslims (and other Arabs) due to a war of aggression against Iraq. That might make people a little extra edgy about such things. And again, I’m not excusing behavior, only trying to explain it.

    But I suppose this puts me in the “murder is bad, but…” crowd. I suppose we shouldn’t try so hard to understand these things? That must just be me and my objectionable liberal tendencies again. I should have stopped, as Mr. Morgan said, at defending the freedom of speech of the cartoon publishers, and left it at that. Well, to me, freedom of speech is a nonnegotiable issue, so why don’t I (and other critics of the cartoons) use a little freedom of speech of our own to criticize them?

    And why don’t you leave your straw men at home?

  • Siamang

    Nobody has the right to not be offended.

    Thanks for running that, Hemant. I don’t think I had seen all of them. I forgot how witty some of them are.

    I especially like the one that leaves it up to you to decide whether Muhammad has horns or a halo. That’s more a depiction of our modern culture’s conception of Muhammad than the prophet himself.

    And the burka image is, IMO, both witty and pointed. It’s about the entire issue, wrapped up in one image: ‘who controls what we are allowed to see?’ Although I think in its depiction it perpetuates some truly ugly stereotypes.

    I find the star and crescent one charming and whimsical. I like the desert one quite a bit, it feels beautiful and respectful. And I like the one where the cartoonist draws *himself* sweating and nervous over the assignment. That’s telling.

    But yes, this book, a history of the whole affair written by a scholar in the field SHOULD have the cartoons. Doing it without them is like producing Hamlet without Hamlet.

  • J.on

    Weren’t the most offensive of the images printed around that time created “discovered” by the imams themselves?

    Scroll down to: “The Fake Cartoons

    The non kafir-tainted ones should be fine to print, right?

  • ajlis

    The whole point of publishing those cartoons originally (in a right wing Danish newspaper) was to give a big “f%#! you!” to Muslims living in Denmark and Europe. It didn’t appear to me to be any sort of thoughtful critique of religion.

    No, it was not. It was a talk both about free speech and how fundy muslims made other muslims look. If I remember correct, besides JyllandsPosten isn’t “right-winged”.

  • jay jay

    Freedom of speech is and should be continued. The freedom of speech also should be meant for good ideas or speech. The objective should be the main discussion here. What is the intention of drawing Muhammad SAW cartoon. Just so that for hatred. What if somebody write something good about Hitler. Do you still say that it is still freedom of speech. What if a muslim say bad things about Jesus,do think that you will still stand it, or the vatican still be quiet. In the record, the Christian alyways make joke of their religion, about Jesus etc. I think that never in the history,muslim make joke of other religion gods. Remember, freedom of speech should be used for good only.

  • Philbert

    It is possible to hold the opinion that murder is definitely wrong and that the cartoons are somehow bad as well, but I think you have to be careful how you present such opinions because frankly, the cartoons are rather insignificant in comparison to the reaction to them. If it weren’t for the riots and murders, it would be a different story. People peacefully argue in the strongest of terms all the time. But when blood is spilled it changes the dynamic.

    I guess it’s the same as when Christians respond to the murder of abortion providers. When George Tiller was murdered the reaction from some was largely about the evils of abortion and how Tiller was a bad person, with a begrudging “of course murder is wrong” thrown in. It made me seriously question people’s priorities if not their true motives.

  • Dan W

    Wusses. To hell with muslims taking offense to the cartoons, put them in there! Considering the ridiculous uproar by muslims when those cartoons were first printed, they definitely should be in that book. Man, it never ceases to amaze me how people can get so upset over cartoons, even getting violent like so many muslims did over those.

  • mag

    I think they are cute, sorry, that’s my opinion and I’m stick’n to it!! !

  • jim murray

    Jytte Klausen’s book is so mild. Wait for the radicals to discover a book published this week. Noor Barack’s “How Fatima Started Islam: Mohammad’s Daughter Tells It All” is page after page of blasphemous defaming of Islam and about every tenet of the religion. Mohammad is depicted as a stupid, drunken, child molesting pimp who owns Mohammad’s Saloon & Brothel. Fatima his daughter secretly controls him and directs the religion for monetary gain and power. Everything is lampooned, even the first words of the Qu’ran which are very gross.

    A photo of an old man who looks disgusting is on the back cover with the name Mohammad under it. This book is begging for a fatwa.

    Jim Murray

  • GullWatcher

    I can’t read Danish, so something there may have escaped me, but I fail to see why so many people are using the knee-jerk term ‘racist’. Since when is Islam a race?

    To paint this as anything other than a freedom-of-speech issue is a distraction. It doesn’t matter if it’s xenophobic, it doesn’t matter if it’s offensive, it doesn’t matter if the cartoons are good or bad or funny or mean.

    What matters is that a group of people responded to political cartoons with violence, leaving over a hundred people dead, setting fire to buildings, and issuing death threats,all of which intimidated a university press to such an extent that they refused to publish the images in a book about the images.

    I find both of those things truly offensive, and yet, somehow, I manage not to riot or make death threats…

  • It’s a shame that the images won’t be included, but publishing them would likely put the writers life at stake. I can understand the decision to keep them out. I’m not sure worrying about your life is being a “wuss”.

  • JL

    Not including the cartoons in a book about the cartoons is ridiculous. And it is a crying shame that violence has intimidated the publisher into omitting the cartoons.

    Now, a couple of the side issues in this thread:

    “The fact that PEOPLE WERE MURDERED in response to the cartoons more than justifies them as being thoughtful religious criticism.”

    Huh? That people had a bad reaction to something, makes that something automatically good? That makes no sense.

    “Atheists will say that Catholics are child molesters and that Evangelicals are knuckle-dragging, women-hating ignoramuses, but apparently saying (not without justification, either!) that Muslims the world over have violent tendencies is too much for some.”

    Well, I would say (as an atheist) that atheists shouldn’t be slinging around bigoted overgeneralizations about anyone. In the US, it bugs me more when Muslims are the targets than when, say, evangelical Protestants are, because it’s feeding a more pervasive societal stereotype, and because US Muslims don’t have the same level of power to defend themselves. But I would call out someone who started spouting anti-Christian bigotry.

  • Freemage

    Lost Left Coaster: Could you be specific in your critique, namely on the charge of “racism”? Some of the cartoons are a broadside swipe against the most violent strains of Islamic culture (such as the “we’ve run out of virgins” one). But I really don’t see any racism inherent in any of the cartoons posted in the piece above.

    And I wish I’d had time this week to do the DMD image I wanted to, even if my ‘art’ is craptacular.