Cartoons of Muhammad sparked global outrage, but the man who approved them has no regrets

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: Almost a decade ago, this was the story that kept dominating the news.

 

"We're returning now to our top story, the outrage in the Muslim world over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed."

 

Hills: Those caricatures of Mohammed, you'll remember, were first published by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. The drawings sparked violent demonstrations by Muslims in various parts of the globe, many people died and Denmark's embassies were attacked in several countries. Flemming Rose was the editor at the Danish newspaper who commissioned the cartoons. He's written about the experience in a new book called "The Tyranny of Silence."

 

Flemming Rose: The sins of being offended is always in the eye of the beholder. There's no such thing as an image that is offensive in and by itself. If you look out through the history of images, if you take Édouard Manet, the big French artist's painting of Olympia or Luncheon on the Grass that are now in the dossier in Paris, they are perceived as masterpieces, a world art that is not causing offense to anyone. But when they were first exhibited in 1863 in Paris, some of the spectators wanted to jump over the fence and destroy them because they found them offensive. So, the sins of being offended, it changes from culture to culture and it changes from one time to another.

 

Hills: It's true, but it's also the case that 2005 is a long way from when that painting was painted, and I think what you obviously encountered was the role of the internet and anything posted is distributed worldwide, so it's a very different environment. I wanted to also say that not all of mainstream Denmark was behind the publishing of these cartoons. Many Danes saw what Jyllands-Posten did as a provocation that really turned Denmark into a target. How do you respond to that?

 

Rose: It's a fair debate and I would say that if you go back to the height of the crisis and today, the mood in Denmark has changed in the sense that more people today support the point of view of Jyllands-Posten and me than in 2006.

 

Hills: How do you measure that?

 

Rose: Well, I explained this because it's very clear that we have cartoons crises almost every week now in the world. This has become part of our daily life that we have these kinds of, I call it insult fundamentalism, and it's not only to do with Islam. It's the same with Hindu nationalism in India, the Russian Orthodox church. This sense of insisting on new limitations on free speech, it has become a worldwide trend and I think that's part of the reason that more people today understand that this was not just an isolated case.

 

Hills: I have to ask, after the publishing of the cartoons, and Kurt Westergaard's in particular, he was the target of two murder attempts, the second one in 2010 when a Somali man actually entered his home with an axe and a knife; he has all sorts of security in his house. How has your own life been affected?

 

Rose: I do not live with bodyguards around the the clock like Kurt Westergaard but that's because I've just been more careful exposing myself in the public. But of course it has changed my life. It's not pleasant to be called a racist or even a Nazi by people with whom you might sympathize on other issues.

 

Hills: Do you think you made the right decision to publish those cartoons in 2005?

 

Rose: From the point of view of an editorial decision, I think it was right. This is one of the most important debates we have had in Denmark and even in Europe for the past 10 years. What I don't like, of course, is that Danish businesses lost markets. I'm sorry for that. But the cartoons, what they represent was perfectly in accordance with the mental enlightenment values -- equality, freedom...

 

Hills: Would you do it again?

 

Rose: Many people ask me that question, but we know from history that if you give in to intimidation, you will not get less intimidation, you will just get more intimidation because you show other people that it works. On the other hand, because of what followed, I think a lot of people will find me pretty crazy if I would do it again. So, it may be difficult to answer.

 

Hills: Flemming Rose is the author of "The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech." That's about his decision to publish the Mohammed cartoons in 2005. Flemming Rose, thank you very much.

 

Rose: My pleasure.