Despite Constant Death Threats, Flemming Rose is Still a "Free Speech Fundamentalist"

The former Jyllands-Posten editor who published "Mohammed cartoons" in 2005 remains unbowed by terror.


Flemming Rose, the former foreign

Flemming Rose unbowed by terror.
Youtube/Cato Institute

affairs editor of Jyllands-Posten (the Danish newspaper best-known as the publisher of cartoons which depicted the Islamic prophet Mohammed in 2005), spoke with The Atlantic's Simon Cottee about the life he lives while under a jihadist-invoked death sentence, the inspiration he has long taken from the dissidents of the Soviet Union, and why he considers being a free speech fundamentalist to be a "mark of honor." 

For the uninitiated, Jyllands Posten's publishing of 12 cartoons of various degrees of perceived blasphemy was followed by a spasm of violence across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Riots broke out during demonstrations, embassies were bombed, and assassination attempts against anyone involved with the cartoons continued for years afterward. In all, 139 people were reportedly killed in violent reactions to the drawings.  

Soon after the "cartoon jihad" broke out, Rose laid out his intent in a Washington Post op-ed:

I commissioned the cartoons in response to several incidents of self-censorship in Europe caused by widening fears and feelings of intimidation in dealing with issues related to Islam. And I still believe that this is a topic that we Europeans must confront, challenging moderate Muslims to speak out. The idea wasn't to provoke gratuitously—and we certainly didn't intend to trigger violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Our goal was simply to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to be closing in tighter.

More than a decade later, Rose admits he regrets that anyone died as an indirect result of his decision to defy threats of violence, telling Cottee:

I don't think that a cartoon is worth a single human life. But the dilemma for every one of us is what do you do when other people think that way? Do you bow down because they say, 'This is so important to me that I want to kill because of a cartoon?'

Cottee observes that the retired journalist and grandfather "shows no signs of disarray" despite the constant stress on himself and his family required by a life under global assassination threat, which includes the constant company of three bodyguards. The Atlantic writer speculates Rose's stoicism might be inspired by his time as a correspondent in Russia:

He described this period as a decisive moment in his political evolution, because immersing himself in Russian life during the twilight of the Soviet Union showed him what a real socialist society looked like: dysfunctional, authoritarian, and murderous. He also came to appreciate the true meaning of dissent. "The dissidents in the Soviet Union made a strong impression on me," he said, because they showed him just "how important it is to fight self-censorship, how important it is to have the right to attack ideas, no matter what," and because "they took some very tough choices that really ruined their lives."

Rose says he rejects the characterization levied by some of his Western liberal critics that he "does not appreciate the limits of free speech in a pluralist society and the responsibilities that come with its exercise." He insists he does believe in certain boundaries to free expression, but that those limitations must be confined to "incitement to violence and defamation of character."

Still, Rose doesn't mind the descriptor frequently used pejoratively against him that he is a "free speech fundamentalist." He tells Cottee that he wears the term as a "mark of honor," adding that essentially, encountering things that offend you is the cost of doing business in a free society. 

Read the whole thing here, and check out Reason's Science Correspondent Ron Bailey's review of Rose's 2015 book The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech.

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  1. Hopefully he doesn’t get the chance to die for his beliefs.

  2. Search returns nothing – did Reason reprint the cartoons?

      1. I’m genuinely curious, that is waaaay before my time at the site.

        1. I’m sure that the cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb-turban was one of them.

    1. I thought they did at one point. I can find some Mohamed cartoons on reason.com, but not the Danish ones in question.

  3. Tyranny of Silence is a tremendous book.

    1. Second that, its on my Kindle and highly recommended.

      Also highly recommended is Jonathon Rauch’s “Kindly Inquisitors”.

  4. OT: I am in line to vote and the line is astoundingly long. I have never seen anything even close to this…and I was in Afghanistan for their 2004 election. I have been voting since 1984…holy crap!

    1. My utterly crude and unscientific look at everyone says it loojs like a good day for Teh Trumpenvolk and Teh Berners.

      1. So… all racists and smelly hippies?

        1. Lot of older folks, lot of working stiffs. Then a bunch of The Yutes.

          1. Whole Foods and Wal-Mart under one roof.

      1. Nope. That is what is so amazing.

    2. I have been voting since 1984

      This is Swiss.

      1. *narrows gaze…and applauds*

      2. I have been voting Libertarian since 1984, and am proud of it!

    3. What state, Swiss?

      1. IL. Just finished. RAND WAS IN THE BALLOT!

  5. The “pleasures of pluralism” link is blocked where I am but I can’t imagine living in constant fear of being murdered is one of them.

  6. Somebody get Flemming a copy of Atlas Shrugged. The observation that best fits the facts is that mystical berserkers worship death. Any excuse or pretext will do, and that is what the Middle East has shown us these past two centuries.

    1. Any excuse or pretext will do, and that is what the Middle East has shown us forever these past two centuries.


  7. I don’t know anything about this guy’s politics or other work, but he gets mad respect from me for this.

  8. Rose says he rejects the characterization levied by some of his Western liberal critics that he “does not appreciate the limits of free speech in a pluralist society and the responsibilities that come with its exercise.”

    Here’s a thought: stop trying to make our societies more “pluralist” by importing religious nuts from the Third World, and we’ll have less of a problem with free speech “causing offense,” not to mention terror….

    1. Or at least stop telling people that it’s OK to expect people not to offend you. A pluralistic society needs to realize that other people don’t give a fuck if someone insults a god they don’t believe in or a club they don’t belong to. Just because something is important and precious to you doesn’t mean that anyone else has an obligation to give a rat’s ass. I think that is one of the important points made by Mohamed cartoons and similar things. Insulting your profit, or whatever, means nothing to me and it never will, so stop expecting that it will.

      1. A pluralistic society needs to realize that other people don’t give a fuck if someone insults a god they don’t believe in or a club they don’t belong to.

        I would even go so far as the usual existential dichotomy rhetoric; a pluralist society where no one offends anyone else, by tradition or by law, is not a pluralist society.

      2. Trouble is, if you prophet and holy book are perfect and inerrant, and in the language your God speaks, and it orders you kill people who insult your God or your prophet, well, you can either follow your religion or be “pluralist.” Not both.

        1. Or you could be like Christians and Jews and not follow the shittier parts of your religion. The Hebrew Bible, in the Orthodox Jewish understanding, pretty well fits that same description.

          What I’m saying is that the advantage of a real pluralistic society should be that people are forced to accept and live with the fact that other people don’t share or necessarily respect your religious or other beliefs. And if some people can’t come to grips with that, then they get locked up or shot or whatever, not pandered to.

          1. I understand. The issue I was trying to express is that a Muslim’s relationship with the Koran is different than a Christian’s relationship to the Bible. Islam has comparatively little room for interpretation.

  9. Well, good for that guy.

  10. I get the idea that it’s not really victim-blaming to point out to a victim that it just was not a good idea to go strolling down that dark alley at night all by your lonesome, but dammit sometimes you gotta stroll down that alley just to prove to the creatures that lurk there that it ain’t their damn alley. Discretion may be the better part of valor but punching a bully right in the mouth has its place, too.

    1. Yeah, sometimes you have to expose yourself to danger or rights will disappear without anyone noticing.

  11. Good for him. I only wish he lived someplace where the government didn’t violate his right to keep and bear arms for his self-defense.


  12. This is a joke, right? Denmark does NOT have free speech. Norway is the only country in Europe with free speech. If Denmark ever hopes to avoid violence and massacres, it must DECRIMINALIZE speech. This guy is not a hero. He’s a patsy for the Danish Shariah.

    1. This guy is not a hero. He’s a patsy for the Danish Shariah.

      Interesting take, Defying thugs who threaten to kill you makes you a patsy for those thugs. Please explain

      1. First of all most of this article is shameless cheerleading propaganda for ‘hate speech’ legislation (pioneered by Christie in NJ). Secondly, if he really believed in free speech he’d be fighting for it, not bowing shamefully to his government’s restrictions. He might as well be saying “Thank you sir can I have another.” Finally, why is he so eager to pick a stupid fight with Muslims? I don’t know but obviously he just wants the attention. He’s a self righteous fool, just like the people he mocks. It’s kind of sad actually.

        1. So everything that the government of the country you live in does which you personally do not approve of…

          … are you “bowing shamefully” to them?

          1. LOL well I really brought the trolls out of the woodwork tonight. Yes if you provoke stupid people with silly insults and then run to your government for protection when they’d just as soon prosecute you for violating their Shariah, and then travel around the world bragging about how ‘Fundamentalist’ you are and how righteous is your Caliphate, then yes, you are “bowing shamefully”.

            OK troll, now threaten me with attacks by Muslim extremists like they do in Denmark to make this guy look like a hero and justify their War on Speech and see how well that works out for you:

            1. heywhydonchablowme.

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