By Abraham H. Miller, Originally Published in the New York Observer
Suddenly, nearly everyone wants to be Charlie Hebdo. When the Charlie Hebdo wannabes could have stood up for free speech, they were conspicuous by their absence because no one expected to see them. Now of course they are reinventing themselves, writing paeans to themselves, and extolling their own struggle against the forces of censorship.
In this vein, I found Jytte Klausen’s reminiscences (TIME, January 7, 2014) about the censorship of her book, The Cartoons that Shook the World, disconcerting.
Yale University Press published Dr. Klausen’s book about the caricatures of Mohammed that incited violence and bloodshed, but absent the cartoons themselves. Dr. Klausen asserts her status as a victim of censorship, and she wants to remind us that a free society is incompatible with censorship, even self-censorship.
My instincts to applaud these noble sentiments were tempered by the realization that no one compelled Dr. Klausen to keep her manuscript at Yale University Press. Once Yale University Press succumbed to pressure to publish a book about cartoons minus the cartoons, she could have gone elsewhere. Last time I looked, it was still a free country with a lot of publishing houses, some with a reputation for thriving on iconoclasm.
The “Je suis Charlie” motif here just doesn’t work. After all, giving up the prestige that Yale University Press confirms on an academic vita is far less a sacrifice than taking a bullet for what one believes. Dr. Klausen was not faced with Charlie Hebdo’s choice between living on their knees or dying on their feet.