HE: How did this situation evolve?
JK: The basic facts are in the “NY Times” story. Yale University told the press to remove the illustrations: first the cartoons, then a second illustration, and finally any illustration.
HE: When you first signed your contract, did you plan to publish all the cartoons?
JK: Yes. But please note that I am not talking about publishing each cartoon but reprinting the entire page as it was printed in the Danish newspaper on Sept 30, 2005. People think they know all about the cartoons but few people understand the humor in some of them, the references to specific Danish events, etc.. Few people notice that some of the cartoons portray Muslims as victims of the editors, and make fun of the editors. Others are racialist depictions in the tradition of European antisemitism. That is why it was important to include them. Still, I accepted they could be risky for a university and consented to removing the page. The other illustrations have never proven controversial.
HE: How does the decision reflect on the content of your book?
JK: The illustrations were central to an argument in one chapter about the history of depiction in Persian, ottoman, and Western art. The removal of the cartoons was not so serious because people can find the pages elsewhere. But the discussion of the history of depiction will probably be hard to follow.
HE: Do you think Yale came under pressure from anyone or was just motivated by fear?
JK: No, Yale University was not pressured. Fear perhaps in the case of the cartoons, but the argument about security risk gradually shifted to the terrain of less tangible concerns about offending or being seen as anti-Arab. My book is not anti-Muslim, and I find the assumption that Muslims “out there” may be ready to erupt into primordial anger at bad pictures offensive.
Helen Epstein is the author of “Joe Papp: An American Life” and “Tina Packer Builds a Theater.”