Over at The New Humanist, Caspar Melville has a balanced but strong piece on the decision by Index on Censorship to engage in self-censorship over the Danish cartoons issue. Melville openly acknowledges the safety issue:
Being the editor of a magazine that makes critical and satirical comments about many religions, and having written a book on the subject this year, I know too well what a thorny issue this is - staff safety does matter, as does the question of context. I can't say for sure what I - or my board - would do in these circumstances.
As he adds, however, it is very worrying when
a magazine whose very mission is to oppose censorship, who are publishing a piece precisely about the craven way in which Yale dropped the cartoons from a book where they would have clearly been relevant, on the basis of the possibility of a threat and no more
That is right, of course. We must take safety into account, but as Ophelia Benson also observes in various places (including in a comment on my earlier post, but most especially here), the prospect of violence was theoretical and remote. Furthermore, these acts of high-profile self-censorship merely add to the environment where certain kinds of publication are regarded as controversial ... and just might attract violence. The more responsible approach is one where publication of criticism of political Islam - or even of mainstream forms Islamic doctrine and culture - is considered routine. This includes satire, and it certainly includes straightforward reportage of satirical material produced by others - not attempting to hide what the discussion is actually about.
Every time a reputable, established organisation such as Yale University Press or Index on Censorship acts otherwise, it makes it more difficult for all the rest to act fearlessly. If The New Humanist does find itself in a similar situation at some point, as Melville contemplates, its decision has now been made that much more difficult.
As Ophelia suggests, this kind of action is also insulting to Muslims. Far from indicating respect, it amounts to a kind of profiling of Muslims, as a class, as potentially dangerous and violent. It would be better to have a bit of trust that most Muslims in Western democracies are good citizens of their various countries - just like most Christians, most freethinkers, most Buddhists, most Hindus, most New Age hippies, etc. - and that they can take a certain degree of robust discussion in their stride.