I just finished reading the New York Times piece on the controversy involving Yale University Press's decision not to include the Danish cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad in their forthcoming book about the uproar that occurred when those cartoons first appeared in Danish papers back in 2005.
While a lifelong defender of freedom of speech, I don't think the decision is all that cut and dry and I sympathize with their dilemma. As the director of the Press pointed out, some 200 people have already died in the violence that resulted from the publication of the images. “When it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question” John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, told the New York Times. But I must say that I am very disappointed that they then chose to eliminate all of the depictions of the Prophet Muhammad that the book was going to contain, including the work of Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí. I have more trouble understanding that. I also think it was probably a foolish move to require the author sign a confidentiality agreement to be allowed to read the report the press commissioned from various scholars and diplomats on whether to include the images or not. These weren't reader's reports. They were security opinions and the only conceivable reason the Press might have required the author to sign the agreement was to control the spin the controversy was taking. It has had the opposite effect and seems to instead make the Press look a bit paranoid.
But my favorite quote in the story comes from the Reza Aslan, a well known and respected religion scholar and the author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, who withdrew his endorsement for the book and noted in the Times:“This is an academic book for an academic audience by an academic press. There is no chance of this book having a global audience." Ouch. He might have been right about that if he were referring to your ordinary university press publishing your ordinary monograph. But as we're talking about Yale here, I don't think that's quite accurate. And perhaps because Yale has such an international reach, maybe they also have a greater responsibility, not just to their staff, but also to scholarship.