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Joan Z. Shore Headshot

God and Man and Mohammed at Yale

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Sometime in the Fifties, William Buckley, Jr. wrote a scathing essay about his university called "God and Man at Yale." He was deploring the free-wheeling liberalism of his alma mater: its "godless" academic tradition. What would Buckley think of Yale today? The Yale University Press is releasing a book next week called The Cartoons That Shook the World, but decided to delete the twelve cartoons which depict Mohammed. This is rather like publishing a book on Impressionism that is devoid of illustrations. The decision has upset the author, Jytte Klausen. But John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said the decision was taken after consulting with "experts" (who never read the manuscript). He said it was based solely on concern that angry Muslim terrorists might resort to violence and attack innocent people, as they did when the cartoons were first published four years ago. Eli Yale must be turning in his grave. This is worse than censorship: this is self-censorship. This is knowing what is right and appropriate and deliberately overriding it. And then trying to rationalize the decision. Let's apply this fright-and-flight reflex to some other areas of American life:
  • Perhaps we should not rebuild the World Trade Center because terrorists might take offense and attack it again.
  • Perhaps we should no longer celebrate the sabbath on Sunday.
  • Perhaps we should put our women in burkas.
How far can a free -- and frightened -- society go before it ceases to be free? How can a liberal arts institution keep our respect while it fiddles around with facts and fanatics? I remember that plaintive Yale drinking song from my undergraduate days at Vassar: "We are poor little sheep who have lost our way....Baa, baa, baa". Indeed they have. Today, we raise our mugs to the Pale University Press in New Craven, Connecticut.