It’s often been argued that when America kicks aside the principles upon which she was founded in order to fight the war on terrorism, then we have already lost that war. That logic has been most popular in arguments against the use of coerced interrogation — torture if you prefer — to extract potentially life-saving information from suspected terrorists.
But there are other war fronts as well, such as free speech — or the stifling thereof.
Score one for the bad guys as Yale University, admittedly concerned over the possibility of violence, has struck from an upcoming book images that might offend Muslims. Yale University Press, which the university owns, removed 12 caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad from the book “The Cartoons That Shook the World” that was authored by Jytte Klausen, a professor at Brandeis University.
Islamic law opposes any depiction of the prophet, even one that flatters.
A Danish newspaper in 2005 first published the cartoons, including one depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. They were subsequently republished by other Western publications.
The consequence was learned in 2006 when there were protests throughout the Muslim world. Rioters torched Danish and other Western diplomatic missions. Some Muslims boycotted Danish products.
Yale University Press said it excluded the depiction of Muhammad after the university consulted counterterrorism experts, diplomats and the top Muslim official at the United Nations.
Said Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, a world affairs columnist who serves on Yale’s governing board: “As a journalist and public commentator, I believe deeply in the First Amendment and academic freedom. But in this instance Yale Press was confronted with a clear threat of violence and loss of life.”
But Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, had a different view, writing: “We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands.”
Unfortunately, the threat of violence following the publication of the images was real — and Yale wasn’t willing to have blood on its hands, although the blood would have actually been on the hands of those who responded with violence.
But Yale’s capitulation clearly demonstrates that this country can move away from its principles not only by confronting Islamic fundamentalism but also by retreating from the battle.
It’s a no-win situation — a sorry predicament in a war.