Published August 13, 2009
Yale University is refusing to publish cartoons and images of the Prophet Muhammad in a new book about those very pictures, which inflamed anger in parts of the Muslim world in 2006 — even as a growing tide of writers and artists say they are ready to take such risks for free speech.
The university's press is set to publish a book in November, "The Cartoons That Shook the World," about the dozen devious illustrations of Muhammad printed in Danish newspapers, leading to global riots in which at least 200 people were killed.
The New York Times more or less rationalized the decision Thursday in reporting Yale's choice to reject the images, saying it was "not at all surprising" the school would opt out of printing the notorious pictures of Muhammad. Many Muslims consider any depiction of Muhammad to be blasphemous.
But other writers and artists have been willing to risk even violent reprisals for the sake of free speech.
Author Sherry Jones has weathered threats for writing "The Jewel of Medina," a novel that depicts sex scenes involving Muhammad and his bride Aisha. Her original publisher, Random House, put the book on an indefinite hold following concerns that its content would be offensive to Muslims.
"I decided to take a stand for free speech and publish my books in spite of threats and violence because I wanted to make a positive difference in the world," said Jones, who will publish a sequel, "The Sword of Medina," in the fall.
"Yale University Press's decision, like that of the executives at Random House, does the opposite," she said. "Self-censorship changes our world for the worse."
Jones' novel, which was eventually published by the New York-based Beaufort Books, was shelved in Britain after her publishing house there was hit with a makeshift firebomb.
Jones said that since the controversy surrounding her first novel, other authors have seen their works turned down by publishers "because they somehow referenced Islam," stoking fears that they would incite ire or even become targets themselves.
The Danish cartoons set off a storm of rallies and riots worldwide and drew an assassination plot against leading cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. In response, all of the major Danish newspapers and about a dozen others reprinted the cartoons in protest.
Artists in the U.S. and beyond have faced difficulties in finding homes for work criticizing Islam. Notably, the filmmaker Theo van Gogh who was murdered in 2004 for his film Submission, which borrowed text from the Koran in its indictment of the treatment of women in Islamic society.
An Iranian photographer going by the pseudonym Sooreh Hera saw her pictures yanked from four galleries in the Netherlands in a period of months, and was living in hiding last year when she spoke to FOXNews.com.
Hera — whose photographs depict gay men making offensive poses as Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali, and show Iran's religious leader in leather trousers — said she wants her work to get people talking.
"I'm hoping my work will arouse discussion," she said. "The thing that endangers the Netherlands is succumbing to fear and keeping silent about threats and not being alert in regard to freedom of expression," she said.
A spokesman for the Yale University Press said in an e-mail to FOXNews.com that such worries weighed heavily on them.
"As an institution deeply committed to free expression, we were inclined to publish the cartoons and other images as proposed," Thomas Conroy said.
But the Ivy League university in New Haven, Conn., was wary of arousing anger, so Yale consulted security experts and religious scholars who "confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence," a press spokesman told FOXNews.com.
The book's author, Professor Jytte Klausen of Brandeis University, says she is disappointed that to see the institution "roll back our own principles" and faulted the school for relying on "various anonymous experts" in making their decision.
"I regard the experts' advice to the university as alarmist and misplaced," said Klausen, who noted that the scholars consulted by Yale "never read my book (and) had no idea what my intentions were."
Klausen said the images were published widely before any protests took place, and she argued that the deadly rioting was fueled mostly by anti-Western sentiments.
Klausen told FOXNews.com she would not have sought to publish the images were there a risk of violent response, but she thought including an Ottoman print of Muhammad in her academic publication — an image also rejected by Yale — wouldn't incite violence half a world away.
"People are offended by (the illustrations), of course, but there's a difference between being offended and wanting to repress something," she told FOXNews.com.
Jones, the author, borrowed a line from British author Salman Rushdie, whose novel "The Satanic Verses" enraged Iran's supreme leader and earned the author a religious edict approving his killing and putting bounty on his head.
Without the freedom to offend, she told FOXNews.com, the freedom of expression would simply die — and more along with it.
"The First Amendment is what makes living in this country great," she said.