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Yale Bans Images of Islamic Prophet

August 18, 2009

http://www.yaledailynews.com/articles/view/29111

I think a decision to omit the cartoons isn’t necessarily censorship. It treads a very delicate line, but may not cross over into that realm because it might not distort the authors message. Having said that, there isn’t soundness to the recurrent reasoning for omission: that it would inevitably yield a violent response, as the article and some of the quotations in it insist. Reza Aslan thinks the images should not be omitted, perhaps for this reason, or because he finds it is a form of censorship. But leaving the censorship issue aside momentarily, I think the larger issue here is the faulty reasoning. Because a republication of the images does not NECESSARILY yield a violent response (especially if the content is not intended, or aimed to rile controversy). On the contrary it might seek to explain the reasons why such cartoons are harmful, but the article leaves any discussion of the actual content of the book out, which is surprising. All we know is that the book is about the “Cartoons that shook the world”, we are given no further details on the concept, thesis or which direction the author takes in respect to the cartoons.

I suppose if I were in the position of editing/publishing a work like this, i might opt to omit hurtful images if they severely trample on religious sensitivities more so than demonstrate a constructive thesis on my part. Emphasis on “more so” and I would also take into account the relevance to my audience. But If the images are necessary in furthering a productive debate, then keep them in. Again however, the actual content of the book in question isn’t touched upon in the article.

This makes the article irresponsible and problematic by relying on a false premise that Muslims all over the world (remember they cleverly quote international Muslim Ambassadors) are a homogenous bunch of religious persons who are definitely going to respond violently to the republication of those cartoons. That’s a gross over simplification and sweeping generalization, It also completely ignores how significant factors of the books audience or intent for the republication can affect responses.

In the end, shouldn’t there be some stifling of very relevant, and critical information, or a distortion of information in some way for us to call an omission of offensive material censorship? If the images aren’t critical to the authors thesis, there’s little reason to include offensive material unless for trivial shock value. So critics claiming Yale is being “cowardly” need to more closely examine what a republication of such images really brings toward generating substantial debate on the issue at hand. Because otherwise they’re just whining against a tactful, harmless omission.

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