No middle ground

“Responsible, principled, practical, and right”

by John Donatich

Would including the illustrations enhance the book? The easy answer is, of course, yes. But the book's reader will quickly discover that it is not a graphic analysis of the cartoons or a history of depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. And the cartoons are deliberately grotesque and insulting, gratuitously so. They were designed to pick a fight. They meant to hurt and provoke. At best, they are in bad taste. The Yale Press would never have commissioned or published them as original content. Those alone may be reasons enough not to print them. In addition, the illustrations are widely available elsewhere. You can see them right now on Wikipedia or dozens of other sites. And finally, there was an argument to be made that printing the cartoons and accompanying illustrations would simply perpetuate the misunderstandings and reignite the very conflict that it intends to analyze in a balanced and nuanced way.

We considered all these points. But by themselves, they weren't enough to make us change course. The overwhelming judgment of the experts with the most insight about the threats of violence was that there existed an appreciable chance of violence occurring. In the end, I decided that the Press would omit the images, knowing that this was the kind of decision that could not be made without negative consequences. Many people feel that my choice was impolitic or politically incorrect or just plain wrong. Yet I believe it was the responsible, principled, practical, and right thing to do. And, again, the Press did not suppress any original content.  


John Donatich, director of Yale University Press, was previously vice president and publisher of Basic Books.