Somehow, and I do not know how, both Kurt Westergaard and Jytte Klausen ended up speaking at separate appearances at Yale yesterday, also the same day the alumni group, the Yale Committe for a Free Press, sent off a second letter to Yale protesting the censorship of all Mohammed imagery, including Westergaard’s cartoon, in Klausen’s Yale University Press book The Cartoons That Shook the World.
Not exactly a harmonic covergence, but a convergence nonetheless.
What follows are highights from some of the reports tracking these criss-crossing events.
I’m going to start with the good news — the excellent letter from Yale alumni that I did not write but happily signed:
Simply stated, Yale must not be the arbiter of what is “safe” to publish. Such censorship corrodes the intellectual freedom that is the foundation of the entire university community. It also violates Yale’s own explicit policy: “Above all, every member of the university has an obligation to permit free expression in the university. . . . Every official of the university . . . has a special obligation to foster free expression and to ensure that it is not obstructed.”
The core American value of a free press transcends political viewpoints. Indeed, Yale’s surrender to unknown potential belligerents drew strong objection from many quarters, including the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the PEN American Center. Also protesting Yale’s action was the National Coalition Against Censorship on behalf of many constituent groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Middle East Studies Association.
Even closer to home, Sarah Ruden, whose translation of Virgil’s Aeneid was published by Yale, announced that she will no longer allow Yale to bid on her future works. In her own words, “Yale Press, after breaking a crucial relationship of trust with an author’s mind and work, should be called a lickspittle of fanatics and forfeit any respect or consideration from other authors.”
In a world where light and truth are under siege, the entire Yale community has a vital stake in preserving a free press. Fortunately, it is not too late, and not too difficult, to reverse the mistake that was made here.
We formally request that the Yale Corporation direct the Press to reprint Professor Klausen’s book with the censored material restored. This will bring a fitting end to this controversy. Lest it be said that the Corporation has never before exercised such direct authority over the Press, we must recall that never before has the Press censored an author’s work prior to publication. Restoring the censored material will also allow Professor Klausen’s book work to serve as a tangible reminder that freedom of the press cannot be taken for granted.
Alack, no such stirring stuff coming from the current crop of Yalies.
Indeed, the opinions that dominate the public space at Yale on the related matter of Westergaard’s visit to Yale to speak and answer questions are either Islamic voices, which believe Westergaard should not have been invited, or dhimmi voices, which pay lip service to free speech and take a stand on not exercising it. The following op-ed by senior Matthew Ellison, which ran in yesterday’s Yale Daily News, sums the latter mindset up:
Yale and its students have thus far stood as a paragon of restraint amid the chaos. Unfortunately, through this international brouhaha, restraint has been the exception, not the rule.
This begins with the cartoonists.
Tsk, tsk — no self-restraint, those political cartoonists. Don’t they know better than to, in Westergaard’s case, take note of and actually illustrate the repeatedly, openly, brazenly made connections between violence and Islam, as expressed by Islamic terrorists and Islamic authorities alike? (It’s not just Abu Qatada time again, it’s also Imam Qaradawi time, because he is a world- famous Islamic authority who preaches about Mohammed the jihad model — which Kurt’s cartoon, by the way, perfectly and accurately captures.) Back to the op-ed by the Yale senior.
Kurt Westergaard and Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that published his work, made the wrong decision. If they did not know the cartoons would result in violent uprisings, they should have known. If they did know and published them anyway, this disregard for human life is condemnable.
This is not to say that they did not have the right to publish the images. … Free speech includes the right to offend. But just because you have the right to do something does not mean you should do it, and Westergaard and the paper should have shown better judgment.
Yale Press made a different decision. No one disputes the fact that the cartoons’ publication would have been protected by the First Amendment. But in deciding whether to publish the images that would offend many, John Donatich, the director of the Press, carefully considered with University President Richard Levin and Secretary Linda Lorimer not whether they had a right to publish, but whether they had sufficient reason to publish.
Also whether they had sufficient reason not to publish — as measured by so-far elusive Islamic lucre.
Upon soliciting the advice of many, they made the judgment that including the images in the publication was not worth the risk of violence, which many believed was present. This seems reasonable, especially considering that anyone who wants to see the cartoons can search Google Images for “danish muhammad cartoons.” Yale Press is not censoring a particular viewpoint from the public; it made the right call.
It is important to make clear that acting while attempting to avoid violence resulting from one’s actions does not in any way condone or legitimize that violence.
No, it merely endorses violence, and merely the threat of violence as a sure-fire winning tactic.
The violent uprisings that exploded in every corner of the Muslim world in response to Westergaard’s cartoon have no place on the international stage.
Just as free speech includes the right to offend, living in a world with free speech includes the responsibility to not kill people when you are offended. …
While Westergaard should have shown more restraint, culpability for the more than 100 deaths that resulted from the violence lies with the perpetrators of the violence, not with the people who angered those would-be perpetrators. In this case, not only did two wrongs not make a right, two wrongs killed lots of people who would not have died if even just one of those wrongs had not been perpetrated.
Just as Yale Press acted responsibly compared to Jyllands-Posten, the Yale Muslim Students Association is acting responsibly compared to those who instigated violent demonstrations. The group’s recent statement says that its members are “deeply hurt and offended” that the offending cartoonist was invited to speak. They are completely within their rights to voice that offense, and they have every reason to, as MSA President Tariq Mahmoud ’11 says they plan to do, ask “critical and probing questions” of Westergaard. That is what the exchange of ideas is all about at a great university like Yale.
My criticism of Westergaard and the perpetrators of violence and my praise of the Yale administration and students can be encapsulated in two simple rules and an explanatory note: 1) Don’t hurt or kill innocent people. 2) If you think that something you do might result in innocent people getting hurt or dying, don’t do it, even if you have a right to do it. Explanatory note: Follow rule 1 even if someone else breaks rule 2, and the fact that people shouldn’t be breaking rule 1 doesn’t mean it’s okay to break rule 2. Yale gets it. Too many others don’t.
The end (thankfully).
Moving along to some newspaper coverage, student and pro:
From a story in the Yale Daily News, a focus on the protestors, not the speech (more on that below):
The protesters at the talk with Westergaard were peaceful, though. Fatima Ghani ’10 and Faez Syed ’10, who organized the protest, rallied a diverse group of 15 students to condemn Yale’s decision to host the Danish cartoonist, holding signs that read “For God? For Country and For Yale,” “This is responsible free speech,” and “Cartoon Legal But Unethical.” Together, they chanted “no place for hate” as the event-goers filed into the conference center.
“We are here protesting what we think is a despicable act,” Syed said.
Ghani also called for Smith’s resignation, saying that inviting Westergaard to speak ran contrary to a master’s mission of protecting the students.
I think he means “protecting Islam.”
“A master is entrusted with protecting the well-being of all Yale students and yet Smith gave a warm reception to a man racist toward members of the Yale community,” she said.
But Smith defended the decision to invite Westergaard to speak on campus and called it “a teachable moment.”
“At Yale, if we stand for anything, we stand for the free expression of ideas,” Smith said.
Bully for Steven Smith, but he doesn’ have much vigorous or even much vocal support on campus. The only student quotation in support of free speech I saw went like this:
“I don’t understand what the big fuss is all about,” said Gabriel Barcia, a sophomore at Yale. “I don’t believe he was trying to encompass the entire Muslim population or the Muslim religion as a whole. I feel first it was just an opinion,” Barcia said. “I don’t think he was trying to send a hate message.”
That came from the New Haven Register account of the Westergaard’s appearance, which noted:
None of those interviewed took issue with Westergaard’s First Amendent right to create his cartoons, and some even thought the Yale Press should have published the cartoons in Klausen’s book.
They were upset, however, with Branford College Master Stephen Smith’s invitation to Westergaard to speak at a master’s tea, generally low-key affairs often open to the public and held in the master’s residential college home.
Because of the controversy surrounding the cartoons, the talk was moved to the larger site with very tight police security, limited mainly to Branford College residents, although 15 seats were held for Muslim students from throughout campus.
Special privileges for Muslim students.
Salah Ahmed, 20, a junior, said free speech for Westergaard was a given, but not the invitation.
“Professor Smith is supposed to protect the students. Basically, by inviting a proven bigot, a proven hate monger, I don’t know what the professor was trying to do. I think the only point of inviting him here was to offend people. … Why are we encouraging hate speech? It doesn’t make sense,” Ahmed said….
Aminah Zabhab, 19, another sophomore. said there was no reason to bring Westergaard to the campus. “That kind of turns Yale into an environment that is hostile to many Muslim students,” she said.
Floyd Abrams, a visiting professor at Yale Law School, and a constitutional scholar, defended Smith’s decision to bring Westergaard to the campus. “Exposing students to the widest range of views, including highly controversial ones, is precisely what a great university should do,” he said in a statement issued by Yale.
Here’s the complete Abrams statement:
Should Yale have permitted one of its college masters to invite Mr. Westergaard to speak on campus? Of course. Exposing students to the widest range of views, including highly controversial ones, is precisely what a great university should do. That Mr. Westergaard has offended some by some of his work, which would be constitutionally protected under any plausible reading of the First Amendment, does not begin to provide a basis for depriving those students who wish to hear him from doing so.
To say this is not to deny in the slightest that certain of Mr. Westergaard’s cartons have led some to take offense. But Yale’s mission is to be open to differing, conflicting, even disturbing opinion.
I don’t get why Abrams is talking so much about offense, but at least the famed First Amendment lawyer hasn’t given up on free speech. But the rest of the campus, administrative, professorial and student, has clearly jumped ship and even sought distance from it, looking back on free speech as a quaint embarassment.This letter from the University Chaplain and “coordinator of Muslim Life for the University,” aka the Yale Muslim Student Association Chaplain, typically conveys the grudging attuitude:
Although we recognize that a single faculty member may have the right to invite anyone he chooses to speak on campus, we find Branford College Master Steven Smith’s hosting of the controversial Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard highly exasperating, given the significant efforts by the University to make the campus a place that truly welcomes and embraces those of every religion.
This event takes the focus off the most important facts: Yale is better off because of the contributions of its Muslim students, faculty and staff and the deepening understanding and appreciation of Islam.
We have a thriving Muslim Students Association led by a thoughtful, committed board and guided by a full-time coordinator of Muslim life who is a full partner in the work of the University Chaplaincy.
More on the “full partner” below.
The University has added a new academic major on modern Middle East studies and added new faculty whose courses help everyone on campus develop a greater understanding and appreciation of a diversity of religious traditions. The campus Muslim community is a vibrant part of Yale life, witnessed by the fact that two weeks ago over 500 people of numerous religious traditions attended the annual Ramadan Banquet.
We cannot allow this event to undermine the progress that Yale is making to build a community of true religious understanding.
University Chaplain and the coordinator for Muslim Life of the University
The cartoon reminder of the sacralization of violence within islam might well jeopardize “true religious understanding,” certainly as the University Chaplain conceives it.
But so might this comment, purportedly from the University Chaplain’s “full partner” Omer Bajwa, the coordinator of Muslim Life for the University (weird title) and Muslim chaplain of the Yale Muslim Student Association. It’s something he is reported to have said while visiting the Women’s Institute of Science and Humanities (WISH) in islamabad in 2006.
Muslims will win the final victory in the West if they conform to their beliefs and disseminate the message of Islam with wisdom and politeness.
Muslims will win the final victory…? Final victory? “Final victory” doesn’t fit into “a community of true religious understanding.” It is the endgoal of jihad.
This comment appears in a posting at the WISH website here,
Given the sparse coverage of Westergaard’s comments in the media, below is an insider’s account of what actually happened during his appearance. It is in the form of an interview by Jerry Gordon with Rabbi Housman, who was at the Yale event as a guest of the IFPS.
Gordon: How tight was security at the Branford College Master’s house?
Hausman: Security was extremely tight. I parked on Prospect Street directly across from Betts Hall. I counted 10 Yale University Police officers, including the Assistant Chief of Police for Yale University. All were pleasant people, but access was strictly controlled. No cars, as a general rule, were allowed through any of the 3 driveway entrances to Betts Hall. There was only once exception, the car which ferried Kurt Westergaard and a number of the officers of the IFPS. That car was searched with some sort of device to detect anomalies. Entry was restricted to those with Yale University IDs and who possessed tickets. There were other special security people inside the building who were not Yale University policemen.
There was a roped off area for protestors on the grounds of Betts Hall, but some distance from the facility. You could see the protestors from the front windows of the building. A newspaper photographer (too old to be a Yale student or reporter for the Yale Daily) was prevented from walking up to Betts Hall and had to remain at roadside….
Gordon: How many people were admitted to the ticketed event?
Hausman: I estimate there were 65 people in attendance…some professors, a number of undergraduate and graduate students.
Gordon: What did Branford College Master Steven Smith say in his opening remarks?
Hausman: Professor Smith spoke about the unique opportunity that this presented to his students and those in attendance taking into account world events. He asked for respectful dialogue. He added that Mr. Westergaard would speak and participate in a Q & A session with those in attendance.
Gordon: What were the high points of Westergaard’s presentation?
Hausman: Westergaard explained his professional background as a teacher and how he fell into the role of a satire cartoonist (I always find a person’s personal narrative interesting). He explained what has led him to draw many different kinds of satire cartoons, the role of 9-11 and some of the activities amongst Danish Muslims, how this set of cartoons ‘went viral’ throughout the world and his surprise by it all, and the loss of his safety due to the physical threats that he has endured from specific quarters of the world since. He did mention that he is an old man and his time is short under the best of circumstances.
In a side conversation with me, he recalled a cartoon that upset people within the Danish Jewish community wherein he used the image of a Nazi soldier (one must remember that, as a child, Westergaard experienced and remembers the Nazi occupation of Denmark). Westergaard met with Denmark’s Chief Rabbi Melchior, during which they discussed the reason for Jewish disapprobation and concern. Yet, never were any threats to Westergaard’s life or liberty issued.
Gordon: What was the range of questions posed during the Q+A? What stood out in particular?
Hausman: The questions by student and professor were basically of the same nature. Did Westergaard feel any personal responsibility for the damage his cartoons caused amongst Muslims? Would he take responsibility for any of the physical harm that occurred in Muslim countries to minority Christian communities? Would he take responsibility for his actions? What could he possibly have thought would be the result of the publication of said cartoons? What could possibly have resulted when one takes the Prophet himself and castigates such a holy and the most important figure in Islam in such a manner? Surely there is free speech, but at what point must one weigh/you weigh the right to exercise that freedom with the damage that it may cause?
Interestingly, there was not one question that I heard which supported Mr. Westergaard’s ability to draw without inhibition as satire is meant to be provocative. …
Gordon: How would you characterize the audience at the Westergaard event?
Hausman: The crowd was hostile in an academic and emotional sense. There were a number of self-described Muslims. Those who did ask questions expressed displeasure with Westergaard’s work. The questions from these people were repetitive. One person described himself as a mildly Evangelical Christian who lived for a number of years in a Muslim country working. Yet, he took what I call a dhimmi view in his question – how far can Westergaard go in his work before endangering Christians who live in Muslim countries? I found this to be the most disturbing question and attitude of all.
There was gentleman, who described himself as Muslim, who mentioned a New York Times article which he claimed connect “well-known Islamophobes Daniel Pipes and Geert Wilders to Mr. Westergaard’s appearance.” Lars Hedegaard, President of the IFPS, corrected this gentleman and remarked that neither Wilders nor Pipes were involved in any of the arrangements for Westergaard’s appearance and probably did not even know of his presence in the US.
It was clear that no common ground would be found.
Gordon: Was there media present at the Westergaard event and any questions from them?
Hausman: There was one photographer stopped at the driveway entrance to Betts Hall. As I was talking with a number of Policeman on the lawn prior to my entry, there was one young woman (obviously a student) who sought comments from the Police regarding the security arrangements necessary for the event. She produced her Yale ID and a ticket, and was allowed to proceed to the Hall. I did not see her inside, however.
Gordon: What impressions did you form about the discourse at this Yale event?
Hausman: Honestly, I would not send my child to any school where there is such uniformity and conformity of thought and attitude. I was disappointed at the inability of those in attendance amongst the Yale community to place responsibility for the violence that has transpired on those who manifest such responsibility. Westergaard drew, but it was the Imams from Denmark who took those cartoons one year after publication and whipped up violent frenzies, destruction of Danish Embassies in the Muslim world, threats to the physical safety of Danish personnel, violence against indigenous Christian populations. Every questioner seemed to want to misplace blame.
Further, it is clear that the university suffers from the malaise of relativist truth and the multicultural ethic. There are no universal truths any longer. When I was in college, it seemed that the point of education at the university level was to use the subject matter under study to encourage independent, critical thinking. Today, all truths are equal. I abjure this notion.
In the final analysis, I believe that the university is lost.
Not just the university, Rabbi.