Danish cartoon publisher defends free speech, religion
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on December 11, 2006.
Too many Americans take for granted the Bill of Rights, the most profound legal implementation of individual rights in human history. Thankfully, plenty of people at home and abroad continue to recognize the importance of these crucial ideas.
Whether you are involved in the community as a parent or teacher or in some other role, you owe it to our children and to the future of our civilization to learn more about the Bill of Rights and teach its principles.
Bill of Rights Day, December 15, is the perfect opportunity. This year, all are welcome to the free celebration on that day at the Masonic Center, 2400 Consistory Court, starting at 7:00 p.m. Students will read each of the ten articles.
The city has also hosted an event since 2003. Part of the motivation was to spark a discussion about civil rights in the context of the "war on terror." The city's event will be held at City Hall Auditorium starting at 5:00 p.m.
Each of our rights is precious and must be continually defended, and the First Amendment is no exception. Recently we've witnessed attacks on political speech, attempts to ban sexually explicit expression, and even a state law that prohibits actors from smoking real or fake cigarettes on stage. Across the sea, Elton John suggested that government should "ban religion completely." Such policies violate our fundamental freedoms of conscience and expression.
Last week, Flemming Rose of Denmark came through Colorado to defend the freedoms of speech, religion, and the press. After hearing numerous accounts of self-censorship because of Islamist threats, Rose, cultural editor for Jyllands-Posten, decided to publish twelve cartoons of Mohammed. Islamists responded with death threats, violent riots, and even murder. This violent reaction several months after the publication of the cartoons was orchestrated for political reasons, Rose said. Lies about Denmark and offensive cartoons never published there were distributed throughout the Muslim world.
(Rose's entire speech at the University of Colorado, Boulder, may be heard at FreeColorado.com.)
Rose mentioned the murder of Theo van Gogh (a distant relative of the famous painter). Van Gogh produced a short film about violence against women in the Muslim world. In 2004, an Islamist murdered him in Amsterdam. Rose said that he published the cartoons so that terrorists could not easily target lone individuals for reprisal. He hoped that broad support for free speech would overcome threats of violence and reduce self-censorship.
Rose lamented that, even though free speech is protected in the U.S. by the First Amendment, few U.S. papers republished the cartoons. The Rocky Mountain News was a courageous exception. And 9News in Denver broadcast a story about Rose that included images of some of the cartoons.
Americans who don't think much about the First Amendment should contemplate what it's like to live someplace without freedom of conscience. A December 6 AP story relates, "Residents of a southern Somalia town [Bulo Burto] who do not pray five times a day will be beheaded, an official said..."
Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute describes the "ideologically inspired political movement" of "Islamic totalitarianism" that "seeks to subjugate the West." Of course, this is a far greater problem in Western Europe than it is in Colorado.
Rose's ideas are timeless and universal. He noted that religious freedom also means "the freedom to say 'no' to religion." He noted that old European laws sometimes compelled church attendance.
Rose pointed out the irony of the Muslim cry for "tolerance." The concept of tolerance, he noted, is not fundamentally directed at the speaker, writer, or publisher. It is directed at the audience. Otherwise, the sort of "respect" demanded becomes like that in the Mafia: it's "respect," or else. Rose denounced all laws that ban allegedly "offensive" speech, arguing that they lead only to special treatment of the loudest (and most threatening) pressure groups.
Immigration in the U.S. tends to work better than in Europe, Rose said. Part of the problem is the welfare state, he said, which creates perverse incentives and undermines effective integration through the labor market. Rose said that European nations need to learn how to welcome outsiders into society and at the same time insist that immigrants accept broad Democratic values such as free speech and equality of the sexes.
Rose described his experiences in the Soviet Union, where he traveled as a student and a journalist. "It was a defining experience," he said; "I was shocked by what I saw." He discussed the dissidents who "decided to stand up for fundamental liberties in an unfree society." He has worked with those dissidents, whom he described as "the heroes of my life."
Mr. Rose, because you stand up for fundamental liberties in Europe and the United States, you are one of the heroes of our lives, as well.