Paul Needham and Esther Zuckerman, Yale Daily News, September 30, 2009
It seems that “The Cartoons that Shook the World” may shake Yale’s campus again.
Both Jytte Klausen, the author of the book about the violence surrounding Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and Kurt Westergaard, the original author of one of those cartoons, will be on campus Thursday. The events, each organized separately, will occur at different times and different locations.
Westergaard, whose visit to campus has been promoted by the International Free Press Society, will speak in conversation with Branford College Master Steven Smith, though the Master’s Tea will be held at the Greenberg Conference Center on Prospect Street. University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said the event was moved from the college because of security concerns and said the Yale Police Department is arranging appropriate protection for the event. Westergaard’s cartoon depicted the prophet with a bomb in his turban.
The Yale Muslim Students Association said in a statement that its members are “deeply hurt and offended” by the decision to invite Westergaard to speak, but the group will not protest at the event. MSA president Tariq Mahmoud ’11 said the group plans on attending the event and asking “critical and probing questions” during the question and answer session after the talk.
“As an institution purportedly committed to making our campus an educational environment where all students feel equally comfortable, we feel that by hosting Kurt Westergaard Yale is undermining its commitment to creating a nurturing learning environment by failing to recognize the religious and racial sensitivity of the issue,” the group said. “Certainly, it would be unlikely for a white supremacist or a holocaust denier to be a distinguished guest speaker at Yale; hosting individuals who propagate hate is not only a disservice to the minorities that hate is directed towards but to the campus community as a whole.”
The MSA is also planning on organizing a panel to discuss the cartoons, Mahmoud added.
On the other hand a group of Muslim students not affiliated with the MSA is planning a protest, said Faez Syed ’10, one of the organizers. He said that while they still have to confirm some of the details, a small group of students will picket the event.
“It’s our opinion that it’s more hate speech rather than free speech,” Syed said of the decision to invite Westergaard.
Lorimer said, though, that “an invitation to speak on campus doesn’t imply any institutional support for the speaker. It indicates, instead, a commitment to let all views be aired.”
She said the University does not involve itself in a professor’s decision to invite a speaker to campus except in situations where there is a threat to safety. Lorimer cited the 1975 Woodward Report on free expression at Yale in explaining the importance of hearing a wide range of views on campus.
“The banning or obstruction of lawful speech can never be justified on such grounds as that the speech or the speaker is deemed irresponsible, offensive, unscholarly or untrue,” the report said.
Because of the controversy surrounding the cartoons, the University has provided for extra security measures and the YPD has been working with the city, state and federal law enforcement officials to ensure safety.
In an e-mail to Branford students, Smith said that students will only be admitted with a ticket that will be checked against a Yale ID. Students will have to take a bus that will depart from the Branford master’s house and leave backpacks, bookbags, purses and cell phones behind. The event is intended for Branford students and affiliates, Smith wrote in the e-mail.
A few hours after Westergaard speaks, Klausen will air her views in a lecture at Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall. Her talk is entitled “Blasphemy and Inquiry: ‘The Cartoons That Shook the World'” and is sponsored by the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism. Klausen’s book initially incited a controversy in August after the Yale University Press and the University decided not to publish any images of the prophet Muhammad in the book about the 2005 violence that erupted over the publication of the Danish cartoons.
Klausen said it was a complete coincidence that she and Westergaard will be on campus at the same time, and said she only learned about it from a report in a newspaper.
“When I learned about it my jaw dropped to the floor,” Klausen said in an interview.
Klausen said it is “unfortunately” the case that there will probably be protestors at Westergaard’s talk. She said she has spoken with Westergaard previously and will say “hello” if she can arrange it with security.
“I think you will all find him quite congenial and funny,” she said. “But, I’m not a great fan of the politicization of this issue.”
[Editor’s Note: Yale University Press, the publisher of “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” decided not to publish the Danish cartoons or other drawings, including the Doré engraving that depict Mohammed. See the New York Times story here.]