The following is an excerpt from the introduction to Gary Hull's new book Muhammad: The “Banned” Images. Learn more about the book at www.MuhammadImages.com.
In August 2009, a New York Times headline announced: “Yale Press Bans Images of Muhammad In New Book.” The book referred to in this headline, The Cartoons that Shook the World by Brandeis professor Jytte Klausen, discusses the events around the cartoons of Muhammad that were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. After their publication, sundry Muslim hordes “expressed” their displeasure by rioting, looting, firebombing.
Yale University Press, claiming it did not want to stoke more violence abroad, removed the cartoons, along with other images of Muhammad, that are the very subject of Klausen’s book. Its press renounced the very principles it depends on for its survival the First Amendment and reasoned discourse to placate the riotous behavior of nihilists.
In 1979, President Carter redoubled the appeasement by capitulating when the Islamic regime in Iran kidnapped U.S. diplomats and called for jihad against the U.S. The West submitted again in 1989 when Khomeini issued a fatwa that declared “blasphemous” Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses.
Islamists terrorized many Western bookstores into not carrying the book. President Bush, Sr. did nothing. And here are the consequences.
In the spring 1989, some Collets and Dillons bookstores that carried the novel were bombed. Bombs were discovered at numerous other bookstores. Two bookstores in Berkeley, California were firebombed. In July 1991, the Japanese translator of the novel was stabbed to death at his university in Tokyo. In 1993, the novel’s publisher in Norway, William Nygaard, was shot. In July that year, 37 Alevi intellectuals were burned to death in a hotel that was hosting a conference being attended by another translator of Rushdie’s novel.
In November 2004, Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered while riding his bicycle to work. He was considered a blasphemer because his movie Submission portrayed Muslim women being brutalized by Islamists.
Inaction by Western leaders encouraged the Islamists’ assault on free speech and reasoned discourse. Public endorsement gave them a moral sanction.
Shortly after the publication of the Danish cartoons in 2005, a spokesman for the State Department said that “Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable.” While in Qatar, Bill Clinton described the cartoons as “these totally outrageous cartoons against Islam.” British Foreign secretary Jack Straw outdid Neville Chamberlain: “I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary. It has been insensitive. It has been disrespectful and it has been wrong.”
Rather than being denounced for acting like barbarians, the marauders were told that they have a moral right to feel aggrieved. And aggrieved they acted. The Danish journalists and cartoonists were terrorized. Numerous embassies in Syria were attacked and set on fire. There were violent demonstrations in Denmark. Churches were torched, and hundreds around the world were killed in riots.
The destruction of life and property, the violence to reasoned discourse and civilized behavior are the result of a long chain of events, and could have been avoided if both the Iranian hostage-taking and the Khomeini fatwa had been treated by the West as the declarations of war that in fact they were.
Iran, the world’s greatest state-sponsor of terrorism, should have been dealt with accordingly. As should have been the September 11 attacks, in which almost 3,000 Americans were murdered.
Instead, the West has engaged in eight years of mealy-mouthed policy statements (with the most outrageous being Bush’s statement that Islam is “a religion of peace”), tiptoeing around theocrats, pleading with the U.N., misdirected and anemic military responses (with the biggest joke being a protracted “war” in Afghanistan). Meanwhile, the orchestrators of world-wide terrorism in Iran remain untouched, growing more belligerent and powerful.
Tragically, the Obama presidency is even more appeasing than were previous administrations. The President saw fit to comment on an insignificant conflict between a policeman and a university professor at Harvard, but remained silent when Yale mauled the First Amendment.
A president who understands his responsibilities to the Constitution should use his moral authority to encourage Yale to publish the book in its entirety. Rather than using his power to berate American businessmen, he should denounce the pillagers of our freedoms.
He should state publicly that Yale its employees, property, faculty, and students will be protected fully by every security agency under his authority. And that if a foreign leader so much as mentions the words “fatwa” and “Yale” in the same sentence, that country will have three days to surrender unconditionally or face, not the umpteenth U.N. resolution, but the righteous and unrestrained use of America’s armed forces.
George Washington warned that “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
Ours is becoming a self-inflicted dumbness and silence not “taken away,” but rather given away by those who are ashamed of everything that free speech stands for.
For more information, see Muhammad: The “Banned” Images at Amazon.com and MuhammadImages.com.
Dr. Gary Hull is director of the Program on Values and Ethics in the Marketplace at Duke University and teaches one of Duke's most popular honors programs. He is editor of The Abolition of Antitrust and co-editor of The Ayn Rand Reader. His articles and op-eds have appeared in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, on Forbes.com, and in Barron's. He frequently lectures to major corporations, business groups, and universities.