Hitchens on the Danish cartoons

August 18, 2009 • 3:28 pm

As reported here earlier this week, Yale University Press is publishing a book about the Danish cartoons that caused such a fracas among Muslims several years ago — without showing the cartoons. Now, at Slate, Christopher Hitchens weighs in on this pusillanimous decision and on who is responsible for “instigating violence”:

. . . Yale had consulted a range of experts before making its decision and that “[a]ll confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence.”

So here’s another depressing thing: Neither the “experts in the intelligence, national security, law enforcement, and diplomatic fields, as well as leading scholars in Islamic studies and Middle East studies” who were allegedly consulted, nor the spokespeople for the press of one of our leading universities, understand the meaning of the plain and common and useful word instigate. If you instigate something, it means that you wish and intend it to happen. If it’s a riot, then by instigating it, you have yourself fomented it. If it’s a murder, then by instigating it, you have yourself colluded in it. There is no other usage given for the word in any dictionary, with the possible exception of the word provoke, which does have a passive connotation. After all, there are people who argue that women who won’t wear the veil have “provoked” those who rape or disfigure them … and now Yale has adopted that “logic” as its own.

It was bad enough during the original controversy, when most of the news media—and in the age of “the image” at that—refused to show the cartoons out of simple fear. But now the rot has gone a serious degree further into the fabric. Now we have to say that the mayhem we fear is also our fault, if not indeed our direct responsibility. This is the worst sort of masochism, and it involves inverting the honest meaning of our language as well as what might hitherto have been thought of as our concept of moral responsibility.

H/T:  Butterflies and Wheels

NOTE: If you wish to express an opinion about this self-censorship to Yale University Press, their customer service email address is customer.care@triliteral.org

16 thoughts on “Hitchens on the Danish cartoons

    1. I’ve checked with Yale for their newly corrected version of that quote.
      Apparently it’s:
      “All that is necessary for the triumph of something-or-other is that someone does whatever.”

  1. Homosexuals instigate homophobic attacks. Jews instigate antisemitism. All victims instigate their oppresion. The perpetrators are merely innocent bystanders to the victims’ self-inflicted injury.

    Feeling particularly sarcastic today.

  2. Damn, am I allowed to think thoughts any more, or are those illegal too?

    I have a few thoughts about the Muslims who rioted. Will the fear patrol come lock me up?

  3. Censoring the cartoons in a book about the cartoons. Does it get more surreal than that? Can we sink any deeper? (Actually, don’t answer that.)

  4. Someone will eventually put all the cartoons in a single document, complete with captions and references to page numbers in the book, and make it free to download, print and slide into the book.

    Time will tell whether or not the group at Yale was mistaken in choosing to relinquish control over what depiction of the cartoons their readers will see when they go searching.

      1. Some further links that may contain items of interest that some may have forgotten/never knew (providing further reason not to buy the book, to boot):

        1)Explanatory text from the above source along with a blog:

        2)Another contemporary one with blog:

        3)Their own Wikipedia page:

  5. I have now posted the below comment on Slate, RichardDawkins.net & here. This action by a publisher offends my very (non-existent) soul.

    ‘I sent the following email to Yale U. P. It is unlikely to have any effect; however, we must do more than just comment, yes?

    (Yes, I realize there will not be another English language publisher where I might obtain a copy.)

    “I did not find a better forum to express my immense disappointment in the Yale U. Press. How could a supposedly independent and scholarly press release a book which does not contain images of the subject of the book?

    Please contact the author and ask where I may find an accurate copy of his book?


    Larry S. Mills” ‘

  6. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie just threw up in their respective mouths a little. I mean, if you don’t have the stones to show the cartoons, why publish the book?

  7. Yes! The muslim fanatics have won! Watch Yale University Press cower before Allahahahahahahaha!

    Can I call ’em retards or will that be vilifying the mentally deficient? “Shut up and the problem will go away” is stupid beyond belief.

  8. I sent my concern about this off to Yale University Press using the address:

    What I’m most concerned about is the “instigation” principle. Should it be accepted in the U.S., freedom of speech would come to an end. I also mentioned that the UNHRC would love their approach and so would the Islamists: imagine the joy of the Islamists if they can blame publishers for the riots and deaths the Islamists themselves actually instigate–the guilty being able to pass the blame off to the innocent.

    Anyway, I did get an acknowledgment back quickly, so I assume the right eyeballs may end up seeing the email.

    BTW, I didn’t claim that they should have ignored fear and published the cartooms; I think that’s a hard decision to make. Personally, however, it’s hard to see how something printed in a university press book is even going to receive much of any notice at all. NYT bestleller list? Not likely.

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