FIRE’s Exclusive Interview with Flemming Rose, Editor Behind Censored Mohammed Cartoons

September 30, 2009

PHILADELPHIA, September 30, 2009—To mark the fourth anniversary of the publishing of the now-famous Danish Mohammed cartoons, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) interviewed Flemming Rose, cultural editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, who originally published the cartoons. Rose talks about Yale University Press’ removal of the controversial cartoons, as well as several other images of Mohammed, from a newly released book about the cartoons themselves, The Cartoons That Shook the World. Yale’s decision has been widely criticized as an act of cowardice in the face of nonexistent threats.

“Al-Qaeda has been appointed editor-in-chief of Yale University Press,” Rose said.

After Brandeis University professor Jytte Klausen alerted the public that Yale had censored her book, FIRE and eleven other civil liberties organizations led by the National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter on September 14 to Yale University President Richard C. Levin and to the Yale Corporation (Yale’s board) denouncing the decision. “The University’s role in that decision,” the organizations wrote, “compromises the principle and practice of academic freedom, undermines the independence of the Press, damages the University’s credibility, and diminishes its reputation for scholarship.”

FIRE’s exclusive interview with Rose was conducted on September 24 via e-mail by Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. The entire interview is available online at thefire.org.

“Yale’s censorship is of course very damaging,” Rose said. “If one gives in to intimidation, as Yale did—not even intimidation but an imagined intimidation—one will not get less, but more intimidation.” Asked why Yale chose to consult political and diplomatic figures to determine whether certain images should appear in a scholar’s book, Rose answered that “Politicians and diplomats want a world of harmony and less noise—that’s their job. So their advice would always be to keep quiet and not disturb the public order. If politicians and diplomats were to decide what to publish in Denmark, I am sure that we wouldn’t be able to read a lot of books. But is this the kind of society we would like to live in? … And should editors around the world then consult experts on Christianity every time we consider publishing something about Christmas or the Passion of the Christ? When I criticize or mock the soccer team Real Madrid or Chelsea, should I then consult with experts on soccer fans? It’s absurd.”

When asked whether Yale’s actions are out of line with core U.S. commitments to free speech, Rose said, “Yale is providing an excellent cover for those dark forces that use offended religious feelings as an argument for clamping down on any dissenting voice. I am a big fan of the First Amendment tradition in the U.S., and I think that liberal democracies should follow the American example and get rid of all kinds of insult laws, blasphemy laws, laws protecting royal families against insult, Holocaust denial laws, laws against racist speech, and other kinds of so-called hate speech laws.”

“Flemming Rose brings a unique and international perspective to Yale’s academically baseless censorship of images of Mohammed,” Kissel said. “He appreciates academic freedom more than Yale University did in this case. Will scholars fully trust Yale Press with controversial books in the future?”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational organization that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; adam@thefire.org