Index on Censorship bills itself as “Britain’s leading organisation promoting freedom of expression.” So it isn’t surprising it would be interested in the decision earlier this year by the Yale University Press to publish The Cartoons That Shook the World, an account of the uproar and riots that occurred in September 2005 when a Danish newspaper published 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad without including the cartoons themselves — or any other illustrations of Muhammad that were originally to be included in it.
So, this month the organization’s magazine is running an interview with author Jytte Klausen about her publisher’s decision not to publish the images. In doing so, what did the Index on Censorship also decide? Its board of trustees “reluctantly decided” not to illustrate the article with the cartoons.
The board chair said the “main concern” was for the safety of the organization’s staff and others in the building in which it is housed. The organization also has posted the dissenting view of another board member, who concludes that “in refusing to publish the cartoons, Index is not only helping strengthen the culture of censorship, it is also weakening its authority to challenge that culture.”
Undoubtedly, the fallout from the original publication of the cartoons — including the recent indictment of an American man for plotting attacks against the newspaper — played a role. But what does it say when an organization opposed to censorship censors itself in reporting on censorship?
Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart
dissenting in Ginzburg v. U.S. (1966)