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Danish Cartoons, 10 Years On: Editor Who Enraged Muslims Speaks Out

Flemming Rose was the man who commissioned caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad for the Jyllands Posten newspaper. He reflects on Islam, free speech and silent fear.

Flemming Rose has no regrets.
Flemming Rose has no regrets.
Henryk M. Broder

BERLIN â€" Ten years ago, the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten published 12 caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Back then, Flemming Rose, was the editor in charge of the daily's culture section, and oversaw the series that appeared in the Sep. 30, 2005 edition, sparking violent protests around the Muslim world and set off a debate about free speech and religious pluralism that continues to this day.

Rose, 57, who now is the Jyllands Posten foreign editor, spoke with Die Welt about fear, self-censorship, violence and a borderless Europe.

DIE WELT: Flemming Rose, how are you today?

FLEMING ROSE: I’m well, thank you. The sun is shining and my new book comes out tomorrow.

It's about the caricatures of Muhammad you published 10 years ago?

Among other things. It’s mostly about censorship, self-censorship and the interpretation of freedom. It’s called Hymn to Freedom.

You mean freedom of opinion.

Yes. I’m often accused of being a "fundamentalist of freedom of opinion." I take it as a compliment. When talking about democracy or the fight against racism you can never be fundamentalist enough.

Have you ever regretted publishing the 12 caricatures?

Never. I don’t think that a caricature is worth the sacrifice of even one single life. The problem is: what to do if others are willing to sacrifice human lives for the sake of a caricature? I don’t regret having published them. It was an entirely legitimate journalistic undertaking, a contribution to the formation of opinion, even if we grasped only later the gravity of the matter. Almost everything we’re discussing today refers to it. Life in a multicultural society, the consideration of religious feelings, limits of freedom of speech, immigration and integration of people coming to us from foreign cultures â€" all of it this is linked to those 12 drawings. They’re a case study about how we live and what values we want to defend.

Back then, people said it was about adding fuel to the fire.

Nonsense. It was rather banal. Kare Bluitgen, a famous Danish author had written a children’s’ book about the Koran, and received nothing but refusal when he went looking for an image of the Prophet. So we contacted all members of the Danish society of caricature artists, and 12 answered. We wanted to know if there was a sort of self-censorship towards Islam. And if so, was it justified? Today we know. There is self-censorship, it’s a dangerous reality.

And what are we supposed to do now with this knowledge?

Many people don't want to admit that they’re scared. They'd rather say: "Why offend the religious feelings of a minority? You shouldn't do whatever you want simply because you can." Instead of re-printing the caricatures, they claimed that since they have already been printed, it would only be a waste of time …

There are exceptions, like Die Welt.

But they remain the exception. Something similar happened at the beginning of the year after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Suddenly everybody wanted to be Charlie, but nobody dared to reprint one of its cartoons.

Because of fear?

Of course. What else. If you mock the pope you don’t have to fear for your life. Self-censorship is invisible. There are no black bars. It starts where you start to look at your own texts through the eyes of others, and if you can’t or don’t want to admit self-censorship, you’ve already lost … Obviously you can’t ban fear, neither oblige people to be courageous or risk their life. It’s simply about being aware of self-censorship, in order to have an honest debate. Most people aren’t ready for that. They prefer to think they're free from all constraints.

The attack on French satirical weekly "Charlie Hebdo" was a reminder â€" Photo: Elya

Still, we need to decide if we want to live in a world run by fear or in a society where freedom of speech rules.

Having lived for a long time in the Soviet Union, I know how a society controlled by fear functions. On the one side, men of conviction â€" on the other side, dissidents. In between, the majority of people, having come to terms with the situation. And who, at home, express quite different opinions than they do in public.

Sounds a bit like George Orwell.

Indeed. And it’s exhausting, to pretend and deny. And this condition can’t be overcome without overcoming the fear. Unfortunately, very often the sword is mightier than the pen.

Where do you see the limits of freedom of speech today?

You can say whatever you want to, as long as you leave Islam out of it. Blasphemy is not a criminal act, but profanity toward Islam verges on delinquency. If you still try, then it’s your own fault â€" even the pope admits this.

That was shortly after Charlie Hebdo ...

And nobody even mentioned it. I think that in a multicultural and multiethical world, we need not less but more freedom of speech, simply because nobody has the monopoly on the “right” opinion. By the way, is it true that a school in Germany has told students to avoid dressing provocatively because of the refugees close by?

That’s true.

See, I think that’s the wrong way. I would have hired a translator, telling the refugees the following: “Welcome. We are here for you, but if you want to live among us, make sure to respect our rules. If you can’t, nobody keeps you from seeking happiness somewhere else.”

ls there a difference between Denmark and Germany? Have the Danish really become xenophobic?

I think we are less politically correct. Germany is traumatized by the events in its history; the burden of the past can make you feel like you owe the world something. We don’t. For you, "nation" is a swearword. When Germans speak of integration, they mean the abolition of the nation-state. They don’t understand that something like a liberal nation-state exists â€" seeking the liberty of its own nation, instead of power over others. Borders are important, they define where one state ends and another begins. A Europe without borders sounds great, but it’s an illusion.

What has happened to the caricature artists who drew the cartoons of Muhammad 10 years ago?

Kurt Westergaard, who depicted Muhammad with a bomb in his turban lives like a prisoner in his own house. After two failed attacks on him, he is now being guarded around-the-clock and can’t even leave the house. What the other are doing, I honestly don’t know. I just know that none of them has ever mocked Muhammad again.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$57,789

A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."


— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.

🕌 🔍 IN OTHER NEWS

Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com info@worldcrunch.com!

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