A new book titled Muhammad: The “Banned” Images published by Voltaire Press recently hit the streets. Dr. Gary Hull of Duke University, who conceptualized the project, was kind enough to answer a few questions from Creeping Sharia on his book and future endeavors.
Regular readers may recall that in July 2009, Yale University’s academic publishing unit released a book about the Danish cartoon affair, ‘The Cartoons that Shook the World’, but refused to include the cartoon depictions of Muhammad that were the basis for the book. Yale claimed to consult a dozen anonymous Muslim sources who recommended not to include the images fearing potential violence by Muslims. For all intensive purposes, choosing Islamic sharia law over the cherished freedoms of speech and expression.
Our quick review of the book.
Kudos to Gary Hull and his team for publishing this book. In an age of pro-active censorship in the face of Islamic terrorism and the aggressive advance of sharia law in the West, this book is a reminder of the American spirit that refuses to submit to tyranny.
From the book’s cover (above), depicting a scene from Voltaire’s Mahomet (1742) to the inside cover which translates a part of that scene and alerts the reader that this problem has been around for centuries, to the introduction and fascinating images – it’s more a booklet at just under fifty pages. But it’s a booklet you’ll want to read, if not own. The book also has plenty of reference URL’s and the accompanying website includes a lengthy list of “news stories relating to images of Muhammad,” beginning with U.S. capitulation to Islamic demands way back in 1955.
The introduction, which starts with a quote from Nathan Hale, is refreshing in its rebukes on Yale’s decision, on appeasement of terrorism, and the imperative for freedom of speech. The intro concludes with a quote from George Washington, one we’ve used several times since reading the book. Then come more than thirty, well-described images of Muhammad followed by a Statement of Principle.
Here’s our Q&A with Dr. Gary Hull.
Creeping Sharia (CS): Was the Yale incident the impetus for your book, and if so, how did you pull it together and release it so quickly after the Yale incident?
Gary Hull (GH): Yale’s cowardice was the proximate cause. However, I have been concerned about the Islamist threats to free speech, and the West’s anemic responses, ever since the Rushdie fatwa. After 9/11, I gave talks on university campuses defending America and calling for a strong military response. Last year, my program at Duke University hosted a talk by Flemming Rose – the brave Danish editor who is primarily responsible for the publication of the Danish cartoons. The book is intended, in part, as a very public show of support for courageous individuals such as him.
We were able to bring the book to market quickly (and ensure its quality) by using only private contractors, a very professional staff, and by avoiding altogether established publishers. We set stiff deadlines, and worked 24/7 to meet them.
CS: How long did it take to pull it all together from concept to final product?
GH: A little over three months. The concept came to me rather quickly. Once I read that Yale was afraid to publish a book with a few images of Muhammad, I decided: Fine. I’ll publish one with many such images. (We ended up with 31, including the Danish cartoons.)
CS: How has the book been received by the public, scholars, Yale, Islamists, etc?
GH: The overwhelming response from the public has been enthusiastic support. I think the book taps an American nerve that is fed up with kowtowing to the world’s losers, and that is tired of politicians who sell out America’s interests.
Some scholars have been supportive. For example, see the signatories on the “Statement of Principle” at the book’s website: www.muhammadimages.com. Overall, though, the academic response to this book, and to all the threats to free speech, has been deafening silence. For the most part, academia is afraid to speak up because it has been neutered by moral relativism, multiculturalism, and political correctness.
CS: Do you plan a sequel or related books on the topic?
GH: We’re planning more intellectual activism on the topic of free speech and its enemies, for example a three-speaker event at Duke during the spring semester. I do not, though, plan on writing any more on this topic.
CS: The Intro takes a very aggressive stance in favor of freedom of speech and the problems presented by Islamic sharia law and Muslims who try to enforce it, as well as the United States’ poor response to Islamic terrorism. Our initial impression of the Statement of Principle and caveat, clarifying the signatories had nothing to do with the book, is that it signals some capitulation to Islamic sharia or fear of retribution by Muslims who may try to enforce Islamic “justice.” How is this explained?
GH: The signatory disclaimer “signals” no such “capitulation.” It is merely a standard acknowledgment that the signatories endorse the ideas in the Statement of Principle. We couldn’t very well ask them to endorse the book because none of them had read it – and on principle, I would not let any see the book before its publication.
If the signatories were “afraid of Muslims,” then they would not have signed the Statement, at all.
CS: Thank you for clarifying. The range of images is remarkable. How were they identified and selected?
GH: We started with a Google search, which turned up some images in Wikipedia and elsewhere on the Net; from there, we branched out to a chapter in Janson’s History of Art (for a quick overview) and then full-length works on Islamic art. Having sorted out the major periods in which images of M. were produced (see the Preface), we used the names of specific books and artists that had come up in my research to track down the holder of the rights and request permission to print – in several cases, a very time-consuming process.
There was only one case where an institution (a magazine) flatly refused permission to reprint an image of Muhammad: see the reference to Studi Cattolici in the Murder & Mayhem list. In another case, an institution made applying for permission to use their image so difficult that we gave up the idea of using it.
CS: (We’ve included that image on our Muhammad cartoons page here.) How many more images of Muhammad are likely to exist in collections around the world?
GH: As for how many images of M exist: difficult to say, but definitely hundreds, if you count Muslim and Christian. Books and manuscripts are typically catalogued by title and subject, not by who appears in the illustrations, so it’s difficult to do an accurate count.
CS: Many of the images show Muhammad with a ‘flame-like halo’ around his head. What does this signify and why was it so common?
GH: A flame-like halo has the same significance as a “plate” halo in Christian iconography. It means this particular person is extremely holy. It’s a way to indicate M’s stature and set him apart from those around him.
CS: Several images show Muhammad opening his chest cavity. Again, what is the historical context of this gesture?
GH: As far as we know, this was entirely Dante’s invention. Dante is very fond of “poetic” justice. M was one of the schismatics – disruptive people who cause dissent and divide society; so in Hell, he’s rending himself to pieces.
CS: The book/statement seems to equivocate terrorism across all religions and groups, and even seems to advocate freedom of speech for terrorists like William Ayers – mentioning him by name. Why misconstrue those issues in a book about the Muhammad images rather than elaborate on them in a book focused solely on that topic? Is there sufficient evidence based on ideology or number of incidents/victims that suggests the threat is equal among religions and/or specific groups justifying their acts by/for their religion?
GH: The book focuses on the Islamist threats to free speech, reasoned discourse – and on the ideas that cause the West to compromise with barbarians. The “Statement of Principle” is a document that deals with broader threats to free speech. As a type of petition, a signatory might not agree with every detail in the Statement (as I don’t), but nonetheless agree enough with its basic principles and mission.
CS: Is there any evidence that the ancient artists were threatened by Muslims for their depictions?
GH: The surviving Muslim manuscripts were often done under royal patronage, and the royal patrons (this being Muslim society we’re talking about) were the same as the religious authorities – so no oppression there. Some dynasties in later times &/or other locations put the kibosh on producing images of M, but by that time the artists of the earlier images would mostly have been long dead. Remember though that we’re talking about a time when the work of artists wasn’t well documented, so this is tentative.
CS: Thank you for publishing the book, answering our questions, and keep up the great work defending freedom of speech. We look forward to more works from Voltaire and your blog.
GH: You are welcome. And thank you for your interest.
Interview responses subject to: Copyright © Gary Hull, January 2010