Flemming Rose on why he published those cartoons

There was one school of thought in 2006 that said the Danish cartoons were deliberate provocations, just as there was a school of thought in 1989 that said Salman Rushdie knew perfectly well he was being offensive in The Satanic Verses and more or less deserved whatever he got. Flemming Rose (the Jyllands Posten editor who commissioned the cartoons) says they were not. In reply to Wolf Blitzer’s question ‘Was it your intention when you asked for these 12 cartoons to provoke a response, to incite, if you will, a reaction among Muslims?’ he said

Of course not. I was focused on the question of self- censorship, and I did not pay much attention to the reactions of Muslims. But I recognize that in the aftermath, in this developing story, a lot of Muslims had expressed their grief and anger. And I’m apologizing for that. That was not my intention. But at the same time, I cannot apologize for the publication itself. I apologize for the feelings it has caused. But if I apologize for the publication, I thereby am saying that I have — we did not have the right to do this, that this was wrong. And as you said, we have behaved within the boundaries, both on Danish law and Danish customs, traditions of satire and humor. We did not transcend anything in terms of Danish culture, tradition and law.

Before that Blitzer asked him if, knowing what he knows now, he would do it again.

You know, these cartoons, they grew out of a concrete context. We had a story to cover, five, six cases of self-censorship. And we decided to cover it in an unusual way, by not telling it but showing it. But, in fact, I do not — I do not accept the premise of your question, and I think it is like asking a rape victim if she regrets wearing a short skirt at the discotheque Friday night.

Flemming Rose also wrote an article on the subject in the Washington Post.

Childish. Irresponsible. Hate speech. A provocation just for the sake of provocation. A PR stunt. Critics of 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten have not minced their words. They say that freedom of expression does not imply an endorsement of insulting people’s religious feelings.

That was two years ago, but the same charges are still being recycled.

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.

Is that a legitimate goal, or mere provocation for the sake of provocation? I would say it’s the first.

As a former correspondent in the Soviet Union, I am sensitive about calls for censorship on the grounds of insult. This is a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders.

Well exactly – label any critique an insult and thus illegitimate, and better yet, get compassionate people to take your part, and thus close down disagreement. It’s a good wheeze, and it works a lot more easily and more often than it should.

6 Responses to “Flemming Rose on why he published those cartoons”