The Cartoons that Shook the World

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The Cartoons that Shook the World is a 2009 book by Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen about the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. Klausen contends that the controversy was deliberately stoked up by people with vested interests on all sides, and argues against the view that it was based on a cultural misunderstanding about the depiction of Muhammad. The book itself caused controversy before its publication when Yale University Press removed all images from the book, including the controversial cartoons themselves and some other images of Muhammad.

Publishing history[edit]

The book was scheduled to be published in November 2009 by Yale University Press. Prior to publication, officials at the Press decided to remove all images of Muhammad from the forthcoming book, including all of the controversial cartoons and a number of historical images of Muhammad from both Muslim and non-Muslim sources, including a 19th-century engraving by Gustave Doré showing Muhammad being tormented in a scene from Dante's Inferno[1][2] According to the Yale Daily News, the story first broke in the New York Times on Thursday, August 13, 2009.[3]

The Press defended its decision, releasing a statement[4] explaining that the University had consulted counterterrorism officials, the highest-level Muslim official at the United Nations, foreign ambassadors from Muslim countries, and Islamic Studies scholars, and that they had "all" voiced serious fears about provoking more violence.[3]

Sheila Blair, Calderwood Professor of Fine Arts at Boston College and an expert on the art of the Islamic world was one of the authorities consulted by the Yale University Press. She told The Guardian that she had "strongly urged" the Press to publish the images since, "To deny that such images were made is to distort the historical record and to bow to the biased view of some modern zealots who would deny that others at other times and places perceived and illustrated Muhammad in different ways."[5]

Boston College professor Jonathan Laurence, co-author of Integrating Islam: Political and Religious Challenges in Contemporary France, has said that he told the Press that it should reproduce the original Jyllands-Posten newspaper page that included the cartoon. "I was consulted by the press about the decision whether or not to publish. I suggested that they publish the newspaper page in its entirety as documentary evidence of the episode being discussed," he told The Times. "I actually know another professor who was also consulted and also told them to go ahead, but do it in a responsible manner."[6]

Cary Nelson, the president of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement describing the decision not to publish the illustrations as prior restraint. "What is to stop publishers from suppressing an author's words if it appears they may offend religious fundamentalists or groups threatening violence?" he said. "We deplore this decision and its potential consequences." [3] Nelson accused the Press of acceding to the "anticipated demands" of "terrorists."[7]

According to The Bookseller, the Press has come under "heavy criticism" for its decision to censor the illustrations.[8]

Christopher Hitchens took issue with both the decision to expunge the cartoons and with the statement by the director of the Press, John Donatich, who told the New York Times that while he has "never blinked" before in the face of controversy, "when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question." Hitchens compared this line of reasoning to the reasoning of people who "argue that women who won't wear the veil have 'provoked' those who rape or disfigure them … and now Yale has adopted that 'logic' as its own." Concluding, "What a cause of shame that the campus of Nathan Hale should have pre-emptively run up the white flag and then cringingly taken the blood guilt of potential assassins and tyrants upon itself."[9]

According to Roger Kimball, Professor Klausen was informed of the decision to expunge the cartoons and other images of Muhammad from the book at a meeting in Boston attended by John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, Linda Lorimer, Vice President and Secretary of Yale University, and Marcia Inhorn, professor of Anthropology and chairman of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale.[10]

According to Professor Klausen, "My book is an academic book with footnotes and the notion that it would set off civil war in Nigeria is laughable," she added that her book has become part of "a battle over the limits of freedom of speech".[11]

Publication of the expunged images[edit]

In November, 2009, Voltaire Press published all of the images expunged by Yale University in a book entitled Muhammad: The "Banned" Images by Professor Gary Hull of Duke University. According to Hull, the new publication is "a 'picture book' – or errata to the bowdlerized version of Klausen's book."[12]


According to the publisher,

Jytte Klausen interviewed politicians in the Middle East, Muslim leaders in Europe, the Danish editors and cartoonists, and the Danish imam who started the controversy. Following the winding trail of protests across the world, she 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—as was commonly assumed—a spontaneous 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.

— [13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yale U. Press's Attempt to Avoid Risk Has Risks of Its Own, by Jennifer Howard, The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 26, 2009, Archived 2009-08-29 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Yale Press Bans Images of Muhammad in New Book," Patricia Cohen, New York Times, Aug. 13, 2009, [1]
  3. ^ a b c Yale Press panned for nixing cartoons of Muhammad, Esther Zuckerman, Yale Daily News, August 16, 2009 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-18. Retrieved 2009-08-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Official Statement by Yale University Press, August 14, 2009". Archived from the original on 2011-06-06. Retrieved 2009-09-04.
  5. ^ Publisher Bans Images of Muhammad in New Book [incl. Jytte Klausen] Yale University Press has ditched plans to reprint the Danish cartoons and other caricatures in a study of the controversy, Alison Flood, The Guardian, Aug. 14, 2009,[2] Archived 2016-03-06 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ August 18, 2009, Yale University Press accused of cowardice over Muhammad cartoons, James Bone, The Times, [3]
  7. ^ Academic Freedom Abridged at Yale Press, by Cary Nelson, American Association of University Professors, August 13, 2009 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-08-16. Retrieved 2009-08-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ Criticism grows over Yale Muhammad censorship, The Bookseller Archived 2009-08-20 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Yale Surrenders; Why did Yale University Press remove images of Mohammed from a book about the Danish cartoons?, By Christopher Hitchens Aug. 17, 2009, Slate [4]
  10. ^ Villain or Fall Guy? Yale and the Case of the Missing Cartoons, August 14th, 2009 [5]
  11. ^ August 18, 2009, Yale University Press accused of cowardice over Muhammad cartoons, James Bone, Times of London, [6]
  12. ^ "Danish Cartoons Illustrated in New Book of Images of Muhammad - Just as FBI Arrests Two for Conspiring to Kill the Cartoons' Publisher". November 9, 2009. Archived from the original on 2012-07-31. Retrieved 2018-11-07.
  13. ^ Klausen, Jytte. "The Cartoons That Shook the World". Yale University Press. Archived from the original on 2013-02-07. Retrieved 4 December 2012.