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US book on Mohammed cartoons stirs frenzy

Author says context of cartoons was misinterpreted

The cartoons that shocked the world will be discussed in great detail in a new book about the 2005 protests over Prophet Mohammed caricatures, but readers will have to use their imagination after Yale University Press refused to publish any of the 12 sketches over “security concerns.”

“There is a repeated pattern of violence when these cartoons have been republished,” University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said in an interview with Yale Daily News.

The decision not to publish accompanying sketches in Jytte Klausen’s "The Cartoons That Shook the World" has drawn mixed reactions from Muslims, with prominent figures condemning the refusal as giving into censorship while others defended the author and the publisher for cultural sensitivity.

The 240-page book is due out in November, more than four years after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published offensive caricatures of the Muslim prophet sparked protests across the world and lead to almost 200 deaths.

There is a repeated pattern of violence when these cartoons have been republished

University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer

A security risk

Yale University Press director John Donatich told the Boston Globe the university sought advice from security, counterterrorism and Islam specialists, who overwhelmingly agreed that publishing the cartoons could lead to life-threatening violence.

“The turning point for me was when I was able to see it less as an issue of censorship because we are not suppressing original material,’’ Donatich said. “We are just not reprinting what was available elsewhere. . . . At that point, it became a security issue and not a censorship issue."

We are just not reprinting what was available elsewhere. . . . At that point, it became a security issue and not a censorship issue

Yale University Press director John Donatich

An "alarming" misinterpretation

The author, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, agreed to remove the pictures but has said that the matter had been "alarmingly" misinterpreted.

“I have a reputation as a fair and sympathetic observer,” Klausen told Yale Daily News. “There’s absolutely nothing anti-Muslim about my book.”

Klausen initially included the illustrations to help readers understand the story, but reluctantly agreed to pull them after Yale conveyed to her the expert opinions.

There’s absolutely nothing anti-Muslim about my book

Author Jytte Klausen

A perceived victory for extremists

Egyptian-American columnist Mona Eltahawy condemned in a Washington Post editorial Yale’s handling of the issue and noted that much of the violence did not start until four months after publication of the cartoons.

"Yale University Press has handed a victory to extremists. (…) I say this as a Muslim who supported the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten's right to publish the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in late 2005 and as someone who also understands the offense taken at those cartoons by many Muslims, including my mother," She said.

The violence was not "spontaneous but rather orchestrated by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt and later by Islamic extremists seeking to destabilize governments."

Islam scholar Reza Aslan, author of "No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam," went so far as to pull his jacket blurb praising the book.

"It wasn't just the cartoons, it was a deliberate attempt by the newspaper in Denmark to provoke the Muslim minority in Denmark, to give them a sort of citizenship test. The cartoons were seen by two polarized camps as an argument as to whether, A, Europe is Islamophobic or, B, whether Muslims have any place in Europe," Aslan told AFP.

"The reason the anger erupted was because of the racism embedded in the cartoons, their deliberate provocation of the Muslim community and the way the cartoons were manipulated to say that Europe is racist. That's where the mistake lies here, to think that the cartoons in and of themselves have the power to create this global crisis," he added.

Sheila Blair, a Boston College specialist on Islamic art and one of Yale's consulted specialists was also against Yale's decision to remove the caricatures. Blair argued that "omitting the historical art was reinforcing the mistaken notion that all Muslims object to depicting the Prophet, when some cultures have rich traditions of doing so."

Yale University Press has handed a victory to extremists. (…) I say this as a Muslim who supported the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten's right to publish the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in late 2005 and as someone who also understands the offense taken at those cartoons by many Muslims, including my mother

Egyptian-American columnist Mona Eltahawy

Old wounds

But Newsweek international editor and journalist Fareed Zakaria, who was also one of the specialists consulted by Yale, said in an AFP interview he was "certain that the publication of the book would provoke violence."

In an interview with the Boston Globe Zakaria added that "to revisit the same issue, to pick at the same wounds" would give phony religious extremists an opportunity to start wars.

Zakaria argued it was better for the University "to weather a little controversy about whether it drew the line right than to deal with the consequences of their actions leading to 20, 40, 60 or more dead."

U.N. under secretary general Ibrahim Gambari was also quoted by AFP saying: "You can count on violence if any illustration of the prophet is published. It will cause riots I predict from Indonesia to Nigeria."

Klausen called Yale's assessment misguided, saying "it reflected an incorrect assessment of the causes of the controversy in the first place, and also failed to take into account the context in which (she) was reprinting the page from the newspaper."

However, the author told the Boston Globe, in the end, she would have made the same decision as Yale.

You can count on violence if any illustration of the prophet is published. It will cause riots I predict from Indonesia to Nigeria

U.N. under secretary general Ibrahim Gambari