The Washington Post has come out swinging against Yale University Press for deciding to cut visual depictions of Mohammad from a new scholarly book on the Danish cartoons crisis. The book, Cartoons that Shook the World by Jytte Klausen, was purged not only of the 12 infamous cartoons, but also of an illustration from a children’s book and other artistic depictions of the prophet. None appear in the book, for fear that Islamists may launch attacks in response. The Post’s editorial observes that the cartoons are “inflammatory and tasteless” but notes that “it’s difficult to imagine a more legitimate place for them” than in a scholarly work. By refusing to publish the images, “Yale University Press is allowing violent extremists to set the terms of free speech.”

Yes, the decision is a victory for enemies of free speech, but everything in this stinging editorial could be directed right back at the Washington Post – and  practically every major newspaper in the West that refused to publish the Danish cartoons when that crisis erupted.

If the Post believes that the cartoons should be published in a scholarly work analyzing that crisis, why was there no place for them on the pages of the Post when the crisis was breaking news? If it is wrong for an academic press to allow Islamists to “set the terms of free speech” today, it was likewise — and perhaps even more — cowardly for the mainstream press back in 2005/6 to allow the brutal mobs to “set the terms of free speech.” Freedom of speech cannot be defended only for out-of-the-way scholarly works, while negated and surrendered by major newspapers and media outlets.

In my view the decision of Yale University Press is partly due to the cowardice of the media during the cartoons crisis and since. By failing to stand up for free speech — and failing to demand that our government defend them — the Western media encouraged the Islamist mobs. The mobs (and their leaders) were left to conclude that through intimidation and violent attacks they can coerce Westerners to surrender their right to free speech and obey Islamic dicta against “blasphemy.” In the years since, a climate of fear has set in. Few are willing to risk attacks.

What we’re seeing today are the results of that fear.