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Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose

August 18, 2009
by

Nine days after the attack, President Bush told Congress, “They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

Regardless of their imprecision, those words never sounded truer than during the events following the September 30, 2005 publication of several cartoon depictions of Mohammad in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper. Sometimes referred to as the “Danish Cartoon Controversy“, these horrific events would be better described as the “Fundamentalist Muslims are Assholes Controversy.”

By the time the dust, flame, and blood from the riots had settled – the last bit of violence Al Qaeda attributed to Danish provocation was in June 2008 – 200 people were dead.

In an upcoming book, Brandeis professor

Jytte Klausen interviewed…Muslim leaders in Europe, the Danish editors and cartoonists, and the Danish imam who started the controversy… [and] deconstructs the arguments and motives that drove the escalation of the increasingly globalized conflict. She concludes that the Muslim reaction to the cartoons was not [an] emotional reaction arising out of the clash of Western and Islamic civilizations. Rather it was orchestrated, first by those with vested interests in elections in Denmark and Egypt, and later by Islamic extremists seeking to destabilize governments in Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, and Nigeria. Klausen shows how the cartoon crisis was, therefore, ultimately a political conflict rather than a colossal cultural misunderstanding.

All fascinating stuff. I am sure it will be a gnarly book.

Right now, the book is not getting attention for its content, but for some missing content. Against the author’s recommendation, Yale University Press has decided that her account of the cartoons and their fallout will not feature reproductions of those cartoons. This is where it gets tricky for me.

Christopher Hitchens, in a fantastic column, argues that the decision by Yale University Press to omit the drawings represents a monumental failure. Referring to a New York Times article, Hitchens quotes the director of Yale University Press saying, “when it came between [standing by a controversial editorial decision] and blood on my hands, there was no question.”

Hitchens is right to condemn the attitude behind this statement. Had Yale consented to the cartoons’ inclusion, any resulting violence would be entirely the fault of rioters, not of the publisher. It is true that Yale could reprint the cartoons with a clean conscience, pointing to bloody demonstrations as actions taken by brutal, ignorant people who don’t know how to use words to solve their problems. Those brutal, ignorant people are certainly not the common denominator to which Yale University Press must make editorial concessions.

However, Hitchens seems to be missing another consideration for Yale to contend with. In a statement issued by Yale’s press, it is clear that the University consulted with religious, political, and security experts, many of whom agreed that the republication of the cartoons would likely trigger more violence. None of the violence would be Yale’s fault, but if some deranged Muslim lobbed a grenade into the quad at one the University residential colleges, fault doesn’t matter. What would matter is whether the institution could have done something to prevent violence on its campus.

It’s important to keep in mind that this book contains descriptions of the cartoons, and condemns the violence committed in ‘retaliation’ for the victimless crime of blasphemy. The mere omission of some images in no way suppresses Klausen’s ideas. If radical Muslims are so stupid that they accept in printed word what they reject in image, the joke’s on their ignorant, brutal asses.

Oh. And for the record, I am not a pussy like Yale University Press obviously is. So enjoy:

Have I mentioned that I fucking loathe fundamentalist Islam, and its brutal, ignorant adherents?

<3,

B

PS – Me and Bobby McGee is by Kris Kristofferson, not Janis Joplin. Not to say she didn’t sing the shit out of it. She did. But he wrote it.

When Kinky Friedman ran in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial race, this fantastic paraphrase was spawned.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 18, 2009 5:21 pm

    It is shameful that Yale Press is pre-emptively kowtowing to the worst elements among the religious fundies. I understand their fear, but one should expect the publishing industry (and one affiliated with a major institution of learning, for that matter) to stand by higher principles rather than just assume that this will result in violence.

    • Barry permalink*
      August 18, 2009 5:27 pm

      I understand the principle that underlies your comment, Brando. There are few political developments I love more than the freedom of speech. But the simple truth is that, when their feelings are hurt, these brutes have shown that they like to make people die.

      If the book can point out that the cartoons are innocuous and that the response was hysterical and frankly evil, why must the cartoons be included in the book?

      I think there’s a great point to be made that the fools who freak out at images and not at words that express the same ideas are just plain nuts. If this can be done without anyone being blown up, so much the better.

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