Over at National Review, Nina Shea notes that Yale University is scheduled to host Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who drew the iconic caricature of Muhammad wearing a turban-bomb. “The invitation to Westergaard” comments Shea, “is no doubt a response to the backlash that Yale and Yale University Press (YUP) have suffered for dropping the Danish cartoons from YUP’s new scholarly book The Cartoons That Shook the World.”
As Michael Burleigh amply documents in his historical tome Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism, one simply cannot understate the fecklessness of Western intellectuals when it comes to issues related to terror or terrorism. From the Russian anarchists to the Red Brigades to the Baider-Meinhoff gang, to various terror campaigns in support of “wars of national liberation,” a wide swath of Western intelligentsia were offering apologies for terrorists, when they weren’t actually giving intellectual and moral warrant for terror.
Now, in one sense, things are not so bad today with regard to Western academics and Islamic terrorism. As I suggested in a review of Burleigh’s book, you will find far less overt support today for Islamic terrorism even among the blame-America-first left than you did, say for the terrorism of the Red Brigades or the Baider Meinhoff gang among New Left academics in the 1960s and 1970s. Even Burleigh acknowledges “no significant section of Western elite opinion is sympathetic to contemporary Islamist terrorism, as many were to Marxist-Leninism in the 1930s.”
But old habits and reflexes linger. Add to the mix a religious-type devotion to “multiculturalism,” sprinkle in a dash of guilt over colonialism and imperialism (real or perceived), and no one should be surprised that that Yale University Press would have capitulated so easily and quickly on the cartoon controversy. As Burleigh also notes, “throughout Europe there are left-liberals (and a few pro-Arab ‘Camel Corps’ right wingers) whose hatred of the United States, and Israel, is so pathologically ingrained that they have become apologists for the most reactionary elements within Islam.” Given all this it is little surpise that YUP capitulate so easily on the cartoon controversy. Moral courage is not exactly the virtue that leaps to mind when you think of institutions like YUP.
So, we might be tempted to laugh this whole thing off and simply chalk it up to the moral cowardice that comes with being an “administrator” in the elite world of academic publishing these days. But Shea calls our attention to an aspect of this little dust-up that should give us further pause.
Shea calls our attention to an article in the Yale Daily News which reports that when “Yale University Press was faced with the decision of whether to reprint the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that are at the center of its forthcoming book, The Cartoons that Shook the World, it turned to the University proper for advice.” Normally that wouldn’t be a particularly comforting thought, but we are told that these included “numerous counterterrorism and diplomatic officials,” who “for the most part,” “cautioned the University and the Press not to republish the cartoons.
While the university has not revealed the identity of most of the “experts,” we now know that they consulted with a senior fellow at Yale’s renowned Grand Strategy program, John Negroponte, Yale Class of 1960. Here’s Negroponte’s interview with the Yale Daily News:
Q: What advice did you give Yale about publishing the cartoons?
A: I agreed with the decision by Yale, and I certainly think that publishing the cartoons and the likenesses of Muhammad in the way they appeared in those cartoons would have been a gratuitous act.
Q: Do you think there would have been violence in reaction to the republication of the cartoons?
A: Certainly the experience has been that up to now the republication of some of these cartoons has caused an even more violent reaction than the initial publication.
Q: Would that violence have taken place on Yale’s campus or elsewhere?
A: I think it was a more generic threat. The violence in the case of the Danish cartoons mainly happened abroad in places like Kabul, Afghanistan. But it’s violence nonetheless.
Q: When would the concern about possible violence be outweighed by the obligation to protect free speech?
A : It’s a judgment call, of course. The question is: on balance, how much of the academic purpose of this book is stymied by the fact of not publishing the cartoons? I don’t think it’s stymied at all since the images are accessible elsewhere, especially online.
Q: What else influenced your recommendation to the University?
A: What was kind of decisive for me in a way as I looked through the background and some of the material was that the American newspapers took the decision not to publish the images back in 2005. I think one did, but the Washington Post and New York Times and Boston Globe did not.
So, what’s the big deal? Again, you weren’t expecting a profile in courage from the Yale faculty lounge, were you? You weren’t expecting a senior fellow at Yale’s grand strategy program to articulate a robust defense of free speech and freedom of the press in the face of threats from Islamic terrorists, were you? You weren’t expecting a full-throated defense of the way civilized people deal with intellectual disagreement and dissent, were you?
Of course not. But the problem is that Negroponte isn’t your typical academic. He was a career diplomat, who just prior to his retirement served as Deputy Secretary of State, the second highest official in the State Department. Before that he served from 2001-2004 as the ambassador to the United Nations, then as ambassador to Iraq, and then in 2005 inexplicably was appointed by President Bush to be the first Director of National Intelligence where he served before moving back to Foggy Bottom in 2007.
As Nina Shea puts it:
When asked in an interview to describe the circumstances in which “concern about possible violence” should “be outweighed by the obligation to protect free speech,” even John Negroponte . . . could give no real response beyond saying that it is a “judgment call.” Here is an insight into why the West is losing the contest of ideas with Islamic extremism.
I think Nina has understated the problem—to great effect.