The Controversy Regarding "The Cartoons that Shook the World"

Yale University Press published the “The Cartoons that Shook The World” by Professor Jytte Klausen in the fall of 2009. The scholarly work is the first comprehensive investigation of the controversy surrounding the 2005 publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

The Press chose not to include the cartoons and other depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in the book. The Press’s decision followed consultation with experts who concluded that including the cartoons would risk additional violence of the type that had claimed 200 lives since their original publication.

As the Press stated in August 2009:

“Yale and Yale University Press are deeply committed to freedom of speech and expression, so the issues raised here were difficult. The University has no speech code, and the response to ‘hate speech’ on campus has always been the assertion that the appropriate response to hate speech is not suppression but more speech, leading to a full airing of views. The Press would never have reached the decision it did on the grounds that some might be offended by portrayals of the Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, Yale University Press has printed books in the past that included images of the Prophet. The decision rested solely on the experts’ assessments that there existed a substantial likelihood of violence that might take the lives of innocent victims.”

In October 2009, Yale hosted talks on campus by Kurt Westergaard, one of the Danish cartoonists, and Klausen, a Brandeis University professor. Westergaard led a spirited discussion with students at one of Yale’s residential colleges and Klausen discussed her book and the controversy surrounding it and answered questions at a public event sponsored by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. In publishing the book, Yale Press brought the discussion forward, but was prudent in choosing to air it without risking the instigation of further harmful attacks by publishing the cartoons themselves. The dialogue continued at Yale with the appearances of the cartoonist and the author.

Resource Links:

The Cartoons that Shook the World

Statement by Yale University Press

Commentary by Yale Press Director John Donatich

Commentary by Sterling Professor Anthony Kronman of Yale Law School

Commentary by Marcia Inhorn, the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs and Chair of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale

Commentary by Miroslav Volf, the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology and the director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School

Commentary by John Negroponte, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Director of National Intelligence, and Ambassador to Iraq. Negroponte is a Yale lecturer in International Affairs

Commentary by Charles Hill, senior lecturer in International Studies at Yale

Commentary by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria

New York Times (August 12, 2009)

National Public Radio (October 26, 2009)

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Media Contact

Tom Conroy: tom.conroy@yale.edu, 203-432-1345