Dave Rubin: We’re continuing our partnership with Learn Liberty this week, and joining me is an author, journalist, editor, and free-speech advocate, Flemming Rose. Welcome to The Rubin Report.
Flemming Rose: Nice to be here.
Rubin: I’m glad to have you here, because you are sort of at the epicenter of everything that our current free speech battle is all about. I guess I’m going to give you an open, easy question to start. How did you end up in the middle of this battle?
Rose: I didn’t choose this fight. It was imposed upon me eleven years ago, when I was the editor responsible for publication of the so-called Danish Muhammad cartoons. They didn’t come out of the blue, as some people sometimes think. They were published as a response to an ongoing conversation in Denmark and Western Europe about the problem of self-censorship when it comes to treating Islam.
Back then, I think I was pondering two questions. Is self-censorship taking place when it comes to dealing with Islam? Do we make a difference between Islam and other religions and ideologies, question number one? Question number two, if there is self-censorship, is that self-censorship based in reality, or is it just the consequence of a sick imagination not based in reality? Is the fear real, or is it fake? Eleven years later, I think we can say for sure the answer to both questions is yes. Yeah, there is self-censorship, and the self-censorship is based in reality because people were killed in Paris. I live with bodyguards 24/7 when I’m back home in Denmark, so it is a real problem.
Rubin: Yeah, it’s so interesting to me that eleven years ago, 2005, you were addressing the idea of self-censorship, because that’s obviously different than what we have here with the First Amendment, where the government can’t censor us. My awakening over the last couple years about this has been about the self-censorship part, that we are doing it to ourselves. Just to back up to the specifics of what happened, you guys solicited cartoons from people, right?
Rose: Yes, we did, yes.
Rubin: Tell me about the process.
Rose: It started with a children’s book. A Danish writer was writing a book about the life of the prophet Muhammad. In Denmark, when you publish a children’s book, you need illustrations of the main character. I suppose it would be the same here.
Rubin: Same here; that goes across borders, yeah.
Rose: It turned out that the writer had difficulties finding an illustrator who wanted to take on the job. He went public saying, “I’ve written this book, but I had difficulties finding an illustrator because of fear.” The guy who finally took on the job insisted on anonymity, which is a form of self-censorship. You do not want to appear under your real name, because you are afraid of what might happen to you.
In fact, this illustrator later acknowledged that he insisted on anonymity because he was afraid. He made a reference to the fate of Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker who was killed in 2004 because of a documentary he did that was critical of Islam.
Rubin: Who then many people know, the note to Ayaan Hirsi Ali—
Rose: Exactly, yes.
Rubin: Who I think is one of the greatest people on planet Earth—
Rose: Yes, who is a good friend of mine.
Rubin: Saying that they were coming after her next, yeah.
Rose: Exactly, and the second individual was Salman Rushdie, who in 1989 was the object of a fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, and had to live in hiding for many years. That was the context, and some people were saying, “Oh, this was just a media stunt by this children’s writer to sell more books.” Other people were saying, “No, that is self-censorship.”
Through the commissioning of those cartoons, I wanted to put focus on this issue: is self-censorship taking place, or is it not, and how do illustrators and cartoonists in Denmark face this issue? I received twelve cartoons that were published September 30, 2005, and I wrote a short text laying out the rationale behind this journalistic project.
I don’t think that it in any way transgressed what we usually do. As an editor and journalist, if you hear about a problem, you want to find out if it’s true or not. In this case, we asked people not to talk but to show, not to tell but to show, how they look at this issue of self-censorship. In fact, I think only three out of twelve cartoons depicted the prophet Muhammad, so there was no stereotyping, no demonizing, even though a lot of focus has been put on one cartoon, of the prophet with a bomb in his turban. That, to me, is in fact a depiction of reality. There are Muslims who commit violence and murder in the name of the prophet.
Rubin: Yeah, and not only was that theory proven, but it was put into action because over 200 people were subsequently killed throughout the world after they found out about these cartoons. Before we get to the aftermath, when you decided to do this, and you’d done some controversial stuff before that—and we’ll talk about reporting in the Soviet Union and that kind of stuff—but when you decided to do this, did you have any inkling that anything like this could possibly happen?
Rose: No, and anyone who today says, “You should have known,” I think it’s a rationalization after the fact. There was a lot of coincidences, and in fact cartoons of the prophet Muhammad had been published before without this kind of reaction. It just happened so that a coincidence of different factors, and the domestic political situation in different Muslim countries, exploited those cartoons to promote their own interests and agenda, and it all exploded.
Rubin: Yeah, and it probably had a little to do with just that it was sort of the beginnings of social media, so things could travel around the world quicker.
Rose: Yeah, but you know Dave, if this had—
Rubin: Once people saw—
Rose: If this had been today, I can’t imagine. We didn’t have Facebook. We didn’t have Twitter back in 2005. We were just at the beginning of it.
Rubin: Just the beginning, yeah.
Rose: Today, it would have been even worse.
Rubin: Yeah, so you publish it. Now there’s the reaction, there’s some violence. What was it like for you at that time, and did the magazine do anything to help you, protect? Were they taking your side? You were the editor, so you were pretty high up, a pretty big deal.
Rose: Yeah, the whole newspaper stood behind me, but it took a while. The cartoons were published in September, and the violence only erupted at the end of January, beginning of February the following year. You had to build up. This also tells you a little bit about the fact that this was no coincidence. People had to plan, to promote. It wasn’t spontaneous, just happening right after the publication.
Rubin: Do you have any evidence of that, or who do you think was actually—
Rose: Yes, there are researchers who have been travelling and talking to people in different parts of the world where demonstrations happened, and it’s very clear that the government of Egypt was in the driver’s seat in the beginning. The Fatah movement on the West Bank in the Palestinian territories were also behind this, because they were in an election up against Hamas, with the Islamist movement there, and they wanted to be the real protector of Muslims’ interests. Same in Pakistan, same in Qatar and Saudi Arabia; yes, absolutely, this was not a spontaneous uprising.
Usually I say, never have so many people reacted so violently to something that so few people in fact have seen. Very few people had seen the cartoons, and the man behind the attack on the Danish embassy in Tehran, in Iran, a Danish journalist, found him several months later and talked to him. When he showed him the cartoon of the prophet with a bomb in his turban, his angry reaction was not against the bomb, but he said, “Why does the prophet look like a Sikh and not like an Arab?”
Rubin: Wow, that tells you a lot right there. You make two interesting location points, because saying that Fatah, which was really the secular counterpart to Hamas—
Rose: Secular.
Rubin: They were using it as, as you said, we’re protecting Islam. You had the secularists actually fanning the flames—
Rose: Yes, and it was the same region.
Rubin: It was the secular.… The same thing in Egypt, where Mubarak was the secular leader—
Rose: He was up against the Muslim Brotherhood, who had been allowed to run an election for the first time in many years in the fall of 2005.
Rubin: I’ve never thought of it in such interesting terms like that, but in a weird way, then, the secularists sometimes are more dangerous than the actual Islamists, because they’re playing both sides, right? Were you shocked that that’s how it turned out?
Rose: I didn’t know at the time. It took me some studying to figure out what actually had happened. It was very surreal. Sitting in Copenhagen in the beginning of February of 2006, and looking, watching TV and Danish embassies in flames in Beirut and Damascus, I couldn’t make the connection in my mind. How come that people can go crazy like this several thousand kilometers away to something that had been published in a Danish newspaper three or four months before? It seemed surreal.
I would say, back then I didn’t understand the gravity of it all. It took me several years, and it was only I would say in January of 2015 when my friends and colleagues at Charlie Hebdo in Paris were killed that I finally understood that I will have probably to live with security probably for the rest of my life. I somehow illusioned myself … created an illusion that somehow it may go away, but it won’t, and these people, they do have a long memory. I don’t find it very traumatic myself, but I just know that I somehow will have to manage this situation.
Rubin: Yeah, so what was the reaction like? Your newspaper defended you, but what about the other publications within the country? Were people saying, “Man, he just created a huge problem for us?” Were they actually defending free speech at the time?
Rose: Not everybody; the country was divided, and it was really something new for Denmark, a small, peaceful country. We had never experienced anything like that, and the prime minister said it was the worst foreign policy crisis in Denmark since World War II. No, back then I was the object of a lot of criticism and anger, and I was labeled a fascist, Nazi, Islamophobe, and so on and so forth. Today, it’s different, I would say. I’m less of a controversial figure today in Denmark than I was in 2006, because people have finally understood that this was not an empty provocation, just to stir up things. It’s very difficult when you look around the world and see what is happening, that this was just an invention of my sick imagination.
The problem is real, and we have somehow to face it. I also had the time to write three books in fact now about this issue, one of them published in English about the whole thing, and free speech. I think people understand that I’m not a warmonger, and I’m not out to get Muslims, but I think Islam and Muslims have to accept the same kind of treatment as everybody else in our society.
In that sense, usually I make a little bit of a joke, but still it’s serious when I say that the publication of those cartoons was in fact an integration project in the sense that we were integrating Muslims in Denmark into a tradition of religious satire. Thereby we were saying to Muslims, “We do not expect more of you. We do not expect less of you, but we expect of you exactly the same as we do of every other group and individual in Denmark,” and therein lies an act of recognition. We say that you’re not foreigners, you’re not outsiders, you are part of society.
Rubin: Right, we’ve welcomed you to our society, but you have to be part of our society, not a separate part. Do you think that—
Rose: You have to play by the same rules; free speech, we do have free speech, and it applies, the right to criticize and ridicule religion.
Rubin: Yeah, just to probably get rid of some of your naysayers real quick, you clearly do.… I know this is the truth, but I just want you to say it so that people won’t selectively hear anything.… You do make the distinction between the ideas of Islam and Muslim people, correct?
Rose: Yes.
Rubin: You fully understand that difference, and all that?
Rose: Yes, I think any idea needs to be criticized and open for debate and scrutiny, but you shouldn’t attack or demonize individuals and people.
Rubin: I feel silly sort of having to ask you that, but I know just for the nature of the way these things work—
Rose: I don’t have Muslims for breakfast.
Rubin: Okay, good.
Rose: In fact, some of the people who supported me back in 2006 now criticize me because I have supported the right of radical imams in Denmark to speak out and defend Sharia law and discrimination of women, as long as they do not do it in practice. We have the separation of words and deeds. I think people should have a right to say whatever they want, as long as they do not insight criminal activity and violence. I have in fact defended the radical imams, who would have liked to see me I guess in a different place than I am right now.
Rubin: Right, and that’s what having principles when it’s hard to is all about. You are the very person who published these cartoons, now defending these people’s abilities to do things that are very against the West, very against your own personal beliefs. Is there some line there, or is it only violence? I’m with you on that, that to me it’s the call to violence that then changes what free speech is. In a case where there are imams that we know, that are in Denmark and Sweden and some of these other countries, that are literally throwing for the overthrow of the government, for Sharia law to be implemented, horrible things about women and gay people and all those things, now they’re playing that line very closely to—
Rose: As long as they do not incite violence, I think they should have a right to say whatever they want. In fact, I believe this not only as a matter of principle, but also as a matter of practical reality. You and I fight these people and their ideas in the best way, not through bans and criminalization, but through an open and free debate where we challenge them in the public space. I have never seen people change their beliefs just because they were criminalized.
Rubin: Right, just because of a ban or a punch or a—
Rose: It drives them into the underground, and it makes them sexy, in a way, when they are not allowed to air all their bullshit in public. I believe it’s the most effective way to fight them. I believe that you should never criminalize words just because of their content, only because of what they call for, that is, incitement to violence. Apart from that, I’m in favor of a very narrowly defined libel law, and I’m also in favor of the protection of a right to privacy. I believe that privacy and free speech, in some instances, are two sides of the same coin. If you know that the government is surveilling you at home, you will speak less freely, and that is an invasion of your privacy.
Rubin: What would you say to the people, because this is the argument that I heard just in the last couple weeks when I was defending the right of Richard Spencer to speak his stuff and not get punched; as I said on Twitter, I have family members on both sides of my family who died in the Holocaust. I grew up knowing Holocaust survivors. It’s not something that I take lightly, but I have to defend free speech when it’s uncomfortable speech.
People, of course, were saying I was a Nazi and a white supremacist and all of this nonsense, but a few people said, “This is different. If these people won’t play by the rules of decency in society, then we can’t treat them with the same thing.” Now, I don’t agree with that, but what do you think is a good argument against that?
Rose: Oh, I think we did very well during the Cold War in Denmark, not banning Communism. We didn’t even ban Nazism, though we were occupied by the Nazis for five years during the Second World War. Richard Spencer enjoys the same civil liberties and rights as you and me. You cannot make a distinction. If you go down that road, it just takes a new political majority, with people like Richard Spencer in power, and he can use the same principles against you and me, and against Muslims or blacks or other minorities.
It’s very important to defend these principles for your enemies, because it just takes.… You’re just an election away from a possible other majority that can use exactly the same kind of violence against you, that you are defending when it’s used against your enemies. I think this is what democracy is about, what a free and liberal foundation of our society is about, that you.… This is what tolerance in fact is about. Tolerance means that you do not ban, and you do not use violence, threats, and intimidation against the things that you hate.
A lot of people hate the ideology and the values of Richard Spencer, but we should not use violence and try to intimidate and threaten him, and ban what he’s saying. That is the key notion of tolerance in a democracy. Unfortunately, we have forgotten about that. Today tolerance means yes, you may have a right to say what you want, what you say, but I think you should shut up. It’s become a tool to silence your opponents, but in fact it means that you have a right to say whatever you want as long as you do not use violence and bans.
Rubin: Right, and of course then there’s the slippery slope argument which is that if you say, “All right, you can punch a Nazi or silence a Nazi,” and then you come along and defend their free speech, why can’t they punch you, and why can’t they punch me for having you on my show?
Rose: Exactly.
Rubin: The list goes on and on.
Rose: Yeah, and when you open that door, you never know when it stops. That’s very precarious in a young democracy, because sometimes a democracy wants to defend itself. I spent time in Russia after the fall, during its time as the Soviet Union, after the fall of the Soviet Union, and that transition in Russia from Communism to democracy in fact got off track because they started bending the rules in order to defend democracy against the enemies of democracy. Here you are, twenty years later, with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, and a lot less space for the individual to say and do what they want.
Rubin: I’ve talked to a bunch of people. I’ve had, I don’t know.… Do you know Tino Sanandaji, from [crosstalk]?
Rose: Yeah, Sweden, of course.
Rubin: I’ve had him on, and I get a lot of mail from people in Sweden particularly, but Denmark also, talking about the rise of Islamism, and talking about how this is happening in the mosques, and it’s happening in the public square now, and we know that there’s a rape epidemic and a whole series of problems. If the best defense is to let these people say what they want, isn’t the problem that we’re still seeing these bad ideas rise? Is the problem of Islamism worse now than it was, say, five years ago in Denmark?
Rose: It is, but—
Rubin: So then, isn’t that an inherent conflict then, with the idea of sort of full free speech, which again, I’m for?
Rose: No, I think you have to go further back to identify the root causes. We had an understanding. I taught immigrants the Danish language twenty-five, thirty years ago in Denmark. My wife is an immigrant herself, by the way, from the former Soviet Union. We had this understanding, of people arrive and they just stay long enough in our country, they will become like us, without telling them what the rules of the game are, what our values are, and so on and so forth.
Today, we understand that this doesn’t happen in and by itself. Even if you learn the language, it doesn’t mean that you start to support the values and the foundation of society. We have been too weak on communicating the foundation of our society, and why free speech matters to us, and why you have to accept that your religion may be the object of satire and criticism and so on and so forth, that homosexuality is not a criminal offense, that equality between the sexes is crucial. It’s one of the most important things we achieved in the second half of the 20th century.
We’re not willing to give that up, and we have been very bad at communicating these ideas. It all exploded during the cartoon crisis. I think that’s why we still talk about those cartoons, because that conflict made it very clear, this clash of values. No, I don’t think that there is an inherent conflict. We had anti-democratic movements and forces also during the Cold War. We had a legal Communist Party in Denmark that wanted to overthrow the government. They sat in parliament. They had their own newspapers. They had their own unions. They had their own festivals. They had their own schools, but we did not criminalize them. We confronted them, and had this debate in public, and it turned out in the end that reason and the values of liberty prevailed.
Rubin: Yeah, so this is really, “sunlight is the best disinfectant” argument—
Rose: I think so.
Rubin: Eventually, these things will crumble because they don’t lead us to actual human liberty and the things that people want, really.
Rose: Yeah, and if we want to get more Muslims on our side, we have to be consistent and make it clear to them that if there are individuals, dissenters within Muslim communities, they have an opportunity to leave their religion, and we have an obligation to protect them.
Rubin: I suspect I know the answer to this, but when I’ve had certain people including Ayaan and Maajid Nawaz and other Muslim reformers like Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar and Ali Rizvi and Sarah Haider and many of these people on the show, there’s been a theme, which is that the left abandoned them. They started talking about these ideas, not being bigots in that they are brown themselves, and that their families often are still practicing Muslims. In the case of Maajid, he still is Muslim. Some of them are ex-Muslims, but that they felt abandoned by the side that they wanted as their ally, or that should have been their natural ally. I suspect you got plenty of that as well.
Rose: Yes, absolutely. I think that’s true, because if you look at the Enlightenment and the West, the criticism of religion came from the left, but the left abandoned its insistence on criticizing religion when Islam arrived and became a hot issue. I think that’s [inaudible] to the core values of the left. Religion is power, and it’s a way to establish social control, whether it is by Christianity, by Islam, or by other kinds of religion.
In Denmark, the socialist party in Denmark, for fifty years they were in favor of getting rid of the blasphemy law. Today, they defend the blasphemy law, because they now believe it’s important to have it to protect Muslims, and I think that’s crazy.
Rubin: Are people right now being prosecuted under the blasphemy law?
Rose: No, it’s a sleeping law, I would say, but we see that hate speech law.… We also have a law against racism. We see that people are in fact being prosecuted for racism, for saying things that actually is blasphemy—for instance, comparing Islam with Nazism. It’s criticism of ideas, not of individuals, so there also is a slippery slope in that direction.
Rubin: What do you make of the far right parties that seem to be growing throughout Europe? I’m not sure, is there a far right party that’s now gaining momentum in Denmark? I don’t know specifically.
Rose: It depends on how to define it. I—
Rubin: I don’t like the phrase “far right” anymore—
Rose: Right, exactly.
Rubin: Because our whole thing is so crossed up now, that I think what used to be far right is thought now as more center, because they’re the only ones talking about certain issues. That then brings in a lot of centrist people who otherwise wouldn’t vote for the right.
Rose: We have two parties of this kind, one an old party that in fact is the second biggest party in Denmark, the Danish People’s Party, which I would say is the second social democratic party opposed to immigration. We have a rather new party that is more conservative for small government, but also anti-immigration. I would not call them far right. They are not outside. They don’t want to undermine the political order through violence. For instance, in Greece you have Golden Dawn, which is more a fascist movement, and they have nothing in common with Golden Dawn, even not with Marine Le Pen in France.
Rubin: Do you think that this is the route that Europe is going to go? It seems like it’s just going to be the reaction to what has happened. Merkel opened the doors to what, 1.1 million people or so?
Rose: Yeah.
Rubin: Even if 95 percent of them integrate perfectly, it doesn’t take a lot of people.… First of all, 1.1 is a lot of people, but it doesn’t take a lot of people to sow a lot of chaos.
Rose: Yeah, a couple of points; I think polarization will intensify. This year, we will have an election in the Netherlands where a populist party, where Geert Wilders probably will not get to run the government, but he may become the biggest party.
Rubin: What do you think of someone like Geert? Do you … I know he’s sort of … A lot of people that I think I trust, basically, say he really straddles the line between bigotry and—
Rose: I had a debate with him.… Absolutely, and we disagree on the two most fundamental building blocks of a democracy, equality and freedom; equality before the law, and the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion. He is in favor, if he gets the power, to abandon the right to freedom of religion for Muslims, building mosques, having faith-based schools, and so on and so forth, and also the freedom of speech. He wants to ban the Koran.
He’s not willing to provide the same fundamental freedoms to Muslims as to Christians, atheists, and all individuals. We disagree on the building blocks, and the funny thing is that if he gets into power, he will use exactly the same hate speech law against Muslims that the current government has used against him, for demonizing Muslims as a—
Rubin: Which he’s been prosecuted, he’s been—
Rose: He’s been convicted.
Rubin: He’s been convicted?
Rose: Yes, which I think is crazy.
Rubin: He can still run though, even though—
Rose: Yes, for him it’s a huge victory.
Rubin: It’s a victory.
Rose: He will use that as a card in the election campaign. It’s the best outcome he could only dream of, in fact. We will see more polarization, and I think the underlying narrative here is that after the Second World War, because of Nazism and Fascism, Europe has in a way celebrated diversity, which is great in many ways. I also like diversity, but at the same time, Europe has not been willing to face its own history. The fact of the matter is that Europe has been very bad at managing diversity throughout its own history.
After the First World War, you had four empires falling apart, and you saw the creation of a lot of homogeneous nation-states in order to build a safe and sustainable peace. After the Second World War, you switched populations in Europe in order to reinforce homogeneous nation-states. Europe, in fact, has tried to build homogeneous nation-states in order to avoid too much diversity within borders of a state.
After the Second World War, you had only four states in Europe that were multinational in their construction—the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Belgium. Today, three of those states are gone. I think Europe has to be more honest about our difficulties managing diversity. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to manage diversity, we shouldn’t try to take people in and look at the positive things, but we should be honest about how painful and difficult it is, and we haven’t.
When Angela Merkel welcomes a million refugees, and just so we you know, “Wir schaffen das,” we can do this, it turns out that in real life, things are not that easy. It means a lot of frustration, a lot of anger, so I believe that Europe, in the coming years, they will face more confrontation, more polarization. We will see more terrorist attacks, and we’ll see the reaction among those populist parties for taking harsher measures against Muslims. If you take the recent travel ban that was issued by Donald Trump, it’s being welcomed by these parties in Europe, and they will push for the same thing if they get into government.
Rubin: Yeah, that’s actually exactly what I was going to ask you next. Do you think that the average person, that maybe is living in France right now, where they have this major integration problem with a certain percentage of their population, do you think they’re looking at Trump now and going, “Wow, you actually did it. You did what we should have done”?
Rose: Absolutely.
Rubin: And thus, will then probably vote Le Pen?
Rose: Yes, and I think the mainstream parties bear a responsibility because they were not willing to face up to that problem, even though voters for many years have complained. People are just telling them, “You are stupid, you are backwards. Why can’t you manage this?” Again, diversity is painful. It’s not easy, so now people welcome more radical forces to take care of that problem.
Rubin: Basically, if you won’t deal with something honestly, someone’s going to come in with an easy answer.
Rose: Yes.
Rubin: If you were just the average citizen in France, and let’s say France just completely closed their borders altogether, there’s still an integration problem there. What’s the best way for Denmark, if you want to answer it in that framework, too? What would be the answer for the countries to get these people to be more integrated? That’s what every.… I think the average Frenchman obviously wants that, and I think that’s ultimately what these people want too, if they could get a fuller picture, perhaps, of what Western civilization really is.
Rose: I would start to reform the welfare state, and I will cut benefits so that people would be forced to provide for themselves at an earlier stage. Too many people in Europe, from the Middle East, they never enter the labor market. Work is a very effective mechanism of integration, and getting the sense of belonging. Too many of these people, they don’t have a sense of belonging to society. They are outside. They never talk to native citizens, only at the social welfare office. They don’t have colleagues. They live in these family communities, so cutting down the welfare state, because the welfare state is also built on the principle of similarity, that people share the same values, that they more or less share the same understanding of obligation and rights, but we are getting more and more diverse.
People have different understandings of it, what it means to be a citizen, of what a good life is, so we cannot fit all these people into a more homogeneous understanding of the welfare state that used to be the case. Forcing people to work at an earlier stage, and getting rid of hate speech laws, because Muslims in fact are also being prosecuted now for anti-Semitic speech in Europe. There are many Holocaust deniers among Muslims in Europe, radical imams, so they don’t feel that we have a double standard. We go after them, but we don’t go after people who are criticizing Islam.
For instance, France, that’s a huge problem, where you don’t have a blasphemy law, and Charlie Hebdo can really mock Islam, but they do have laws criminalizing denial of the Holocaust, which means that there are Muslims who are being prosecuted for anti-Semitism, while people critical of Islam are not being prosecuted for mocking Islam. I believe there is a difference, but I think it’s a moral one, and it shouldn’t be a legal one.
Rubin: Let’s talk about Charlie Hebdo for a little bit, because I think that the reaction to Charlie Hebdo was really what my final straw was, with sort of the progressive movement. I saw so many people saying they shouldn’t have done these cartoons, they focused on Islam, it turned out that it was something like 3 percent of the covers were about Islam.
Rose: Exactly, yes.
Rubin: I was on a show actually, on a network, where somebody said it was 99 percent of the covers. I didn’t have the information right in front of me, but I said, “I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.” Just the kneejerk defense, and almost no.… There was almost.… It was like there would be a line of, “These people are dead,” but then a tirade on the left of, “Don’t do this, don’t do this.”
Rose: Especially here.
Rubin: Was it more here, do you think?
Rose: Yes, I think so.
Rubin: What do you think that’s about?
Rose: You had this event in New York, American PEN wanted to award Charlie Hebdo for courage. A lot of famous writers didn’t want to show up, because they didn’t believe that they deserved this kind of award. A lot of American left-wing intellectuals just got it wrong, because they see … look at this through the lens of race, and this is not about race. It turns out that Charlie Hebdo in fact have been the staunchest defender of Muslims as a weak minority in France, in working France.
Rubin: Yeah, most of the covers on Charlie Hebdo were mocking not Muslim people, they were mocking the dogmatic parts of the religion that are oppressing Muslim people.
Rose: The pope… If you look at what they to the pope, what they did to the prophet is just like a kindergarten, very sexually explicit cartoons of the pope, but mostly they were in fact mocking powerful politicians like Sarkozy or Le Pen, and business magnates and things like that. It was 7 covers, I guess, out of around 500 that dealt with Islam and the prophet, so it’s just plain wrong.
It is true that in France you have this anti-clerical tradition on the left, because of a very tough battle with the Catholic Church for many, many years. It has played into the way they look at religion in general, but they criticize and attack the Catholic Church far more than they criticize and attack Islam.
Rubin: Do you think that when people are doing this, when they’re saying, “Don’t offend them, don’t offend them,” they realize, do you think at some level, some of them realize the actual bigotry that they’re showing, which George W. Bush came up with the phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” which now Bill Maher uses a lot, and plenty of other people.
Rose: Yes.
Rubin: It’s bizarre, I guess, maybe that it came from George W. Bush, but to me that actually—
Rose: Did he say that?
Rubin: Originally, it was a speech writer of his that came up with it. He got it out there, but now it seems so obvious to me that that’s what’s happening here. What you’re saying is—
Rose: It is the racism of low expectations, yes.
Rubin: Yeah, what you’re saying is, “You can mock Christianity, because they have a sense of humor. They can deal with it. They’ll be all right.”
Rose: They are grown-ups.
Rubin: “They’re grown-ups, but if you mock Islam, then if you get shot or somebody blows something up, it was kind of your fault.”
Rose: It’s really discriminating against Muslims, because you look at them as if they are animals or children. They can’t handle this like other believers and people can, and that’s really discriminating.
Rubin: Is that the saddest part for you, that what you did in 2005 wasn’t based in humor, but actually Charlie Hebdo was based in great satire and humor? As you said, France has an incredible tradition of satire, that if we don’t allow these people.… not allow them, they should have the same right that everyone else has, to make fun of their own institutions, and we should be able to make fun of them, and they should be able to make fun of us. If we don’t allow them, we’re actually robbing them of what is perhaps the most important thing that you can have as a human, because that’s real freedom.
Rose: Yes, and in fact I have heard some of my Muslim friends talk that way, that we need hundreds of Charlie Hebdos in the Muslim world, because religion is really being used as a tool of oppression, and Christians can laugh at themselves because there is this freedom in fact for many Christians within their religion, that they can listen to a dirty joke about the virgin Maria without being … feel that they have been attacked or.… Because that is a sense of freedom.
Rubin: I always say … The example I always use is that, do you ever see the show Family Guy? It’s big here.
Rose: No.
Rubin: I don’t know if it’s big in Denmark, but there’s.… It mocks everybody relentlessly. They do plenty of.… There was an episode where they went back to Bethlehem in 2000-whatever, 2,000 years ago, and they have Jesus bathing to porn music, and a little baby walks in and watches him. You need that satire, because that’s ridiculous, or you could watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, and every episode is Larry David making fun of Jesus, and you need that.
Rose: Yes, and the former editor of Charlie Hebdo I think put it in a very eloquent way. He said, “What kind of civilization are we, if we cannot mock, make fun, and ridicule the religion in which name trains, airplanes, and people are being blown up?” I think in fact satire is a very civilized reaction to violence.  You don’t respond through violence, you laugh, you make people laugh. That is, in a way, it’s a way of managing a difficult situation. I think it is very civilized.
When Charlie Hebdo or when our cartoons were published, it was a reaction to violence, intimidation, and threats in the public space. We did not respond in kind, but we said, “Okay, let’s have some fun.” I think it’s a big challenge for Muslims to work out a relationship to their faith, where it is possible to make fun without feeling that your faith is 2 undermined, that it makes you.… It helps you to create a distance that is based in freedom, and that the prophet Muhammad and the crown is not being used to oppress you or control you xsocially. There also is an element of freedom and free choice, when you have the ability to laugh.
Rubin: I’m trying to get to a part of this where we can start spinning this in a way that’ll be positive for society. I’m with you on all the philosophic precepts you’ve laid out. I’m completely with you, but at the same time you’re saying yeah, you think that the.… We’re not calling them the far right, but those parties, those right parties, or the anti-immigration parties, let’s say, are going to keep gaining strength.
I suspect that that type of populism will continue happening in America. The next time that there’s a bad terrorist attack in any of these countries, now we live in a global world. It’s going to increase those numbers, so is there a silver lining here? I know that there’s a middle growing here, I think that we’re part of, but is there some sort of political piece of that?
Rose: Yeah, I think my problem with what you call the populist right is that they believe that we are at war with Islam, and most Muslims in fact buy into this legitimization of violence in the name of their religion. I don’t believe that’s the case, and I believe that we have to be very clear about definitions. I think we are in a hot war with Jihadists, people who are killing and committing violence. I believe we are in a cold war with Islamists who are not using violence but believe in the tenets of a very anti-democratic, anti-freedom ideology, which means that we need to find believing Muslims, not apostates, not former Muslims, but true believers who subscribe to the values of liberal democracy, the secular state, freedom of speech, freedom of religion.
I believe this is basically a battle of ideas, and we cannot win this battle of ideas if we do not have true believers among Muslims on our side. We have to start looking for them, and maybe Maajid Nawaz, whom you mentioned, I don’t know if he’s still a believing Muslim, but at least he used to be. I have a dialogue with a Norwegian Muslim who wrote a book, [How to Love Norway and the Koran at the Same Time]?
I like that book, because it’s very clear about the fact that free speech and freedom of religion is not up for negotiations. At the same time, here’s a socially conservative Muslim. We disagree on most things, but I think we agree on the fundamentals of secular democracy.
Rubin: Yeah, and that’s exactly where we have to find these people. Do you think that there are enough of them?
Rose: No.
Rubin: My fear is that we know there are 1.3 billion Muslim people. That’s a lot of people, but the problem is that a lot of them have been sort of chilled. They’ve been afraid to say what they speak, because of all of this, because they’re getting it from both sides. If they speak about it, then the more conservative … Certainly the Islamists are going to be angry at them, and if they speak about it, they know that they’re going to be treated as.… From the left, they know they’re going to be treated like they were sell-outs to their own community or something. This is a really narrow group of people that we have to try to figure out where they are.
Rose: It’s really an uphill struggle, and I believe that Islam is in a deep crisis, and it will take decades, I think, to fight out this ideological struggle, where you have to work out a religious doctrine that is compatible with a multi-religious, multicultural democracy. It’s not going to be easy, and we have to be honest about that. I also think it doesn’t help when Western politicians say that the Jihadists, they have just taken Islam hostage, that this has nothing to do with Islam. It has.
Rubin: We have to take their word for it, that’s what I would say, right? If they say it, who am I to tell them that it’s not the case?
Rose: One of the reasons why this battle is so difficult is because the Jihadists, in fact, they stand on a strong theological ground. There are phrases and verses in the Koran that justify violence, against nonbelievers, against blasphemers, against apostates, and they have this utopia that they want to recreate the caliphate, the time of the prophet Muhammad, and the first caliphs after the prophet. If you say this has nothing to do with Islam, you never get into this battle of ideas.
It’s clear, when you talk to Muslims, that they feel very intimidated by the theological arguments being used by the Jihadists. For you and me, it doesn’t sound intimidating when people tell me, “Flemming, you are a bad Christian,” or they tell you that you are a bad Jew, or whatever it is, but if you—
Rubin: I get plenty of that.
Rose: If you say to a Muslim, “You are a bad Muslim,” it feels very intimidating. We should not refrain from getting into this fight, and acknowledge that the Jihadists in fact do make references to the Koran, and that there is a tradition within Islam that is violent, and that wants to kill apostates and blasphemers, and so on and so forth.
Rubin: Do you think that some of the apologists are strangely misguided? For example, during this whole thing with the executive order and Trump and the refugees, I saw a few very popular people on Twitter, people with millions of followers, tweeting things to the effect of, “You know how you get terrorists? You ban all people from your country.” It does go to the soft bigotry of low expectations again, because it’s saying, “Wait a minute, if you don’t let everyone in, then they might start blowing themselves up, or blowing you up?” It’s almost as if the logic isn’t thought out. What we really need is a resurgence of logic, more than anything else.
Rose: Yes, exactly, and we have to be very clear that the people who commit violence are responsible for violence, not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama or Angela Merkel. It’s the people who commit violence, and quite often I often experienced that during the cartoon crisis. People would accuse me of being responsible for violence in other parts of the world, which is a slippery slope. If you open that door, it never stops. You have to be very clear that an individual, we have reason. We have a mind, as human beings, to make a decision about how to react to other people’s speech and cartoons.
It means that we are responsible agents, not people who are offenders or say something offensive. I also think that we have to educate ourselves about Islam. I didn’t know that there was a ban on images of the prophet eleven years ago, and I had a crash course, I would say, for the past eleven years.
Rubin: Did you really have no idea?
Rose: No.
Rubin: When you did that, had no one said to you as we’re going to do it, nobody at the newspaper said—
Rose: No, not in that specific way, and I didn’t hear about it until afterwards. It turned out that there were voices inside the newspaper that didn’t make an exact warning, but they said to the editor-in-chief that we should be cautious, but I never got that word.
Rubin: I’ve heard you say—
Rose: I don’t think it’d matter that much, because that’s not the way we treat ideas in the West. You shouldn’t consult lawyers. I mean, you can consult a lawyer if you want to know what you want to publish is legal, but otherwise you have to make a decision for yourself whether you think it’s legitimate and makes sense. I think we all know too little about Islam, and when people say, “This has nothing to do with Islam,” they really don’t know the history of Islam, and what has been done and not done in the name of the prophet throughout history.
Rubin: Yeah, I almost feel like I don’t know that we have to know more about Islam. We have to know more about what our Western values are.
Rose: Absolutely, I agree.
Rubin: It may be both of those things at the same time, but I would rather people—
Rose: No, but it goes to—
Rubin: Focus on that.
Rose: Absolutely, I agree 100 percent, and that is one of the reasons why we are not facing up to that challenge. We have forgotten who we are, where we come from, and what is the foundation of our success in the West.
Rubin: I’ve heard you say that you don’t regret publishing the cartoons.
Rose: No, and when people ask me, “Would you do it again?” usually I say, “If I say I would not do it again, I will send a very unfortunate signal to the people who commit the violence, and basically say to them, if you threaten enough, if you kill enough people, I will do exactly as you please, so why stop?”
Rubin: Yeah, and that’s the message that all my friends on the left are sending to them all the time. Every time you say it—“Don’t publish it, don’t publish it”—what else? We know they don’t like gay marriage, so should we not have gay marriage? We know they.… Whatever else they don’t like—
Rose: Exactly.
Rubin: Whatever else we’re pushing on them, of our secularism, should we just be hostages to all of that stuff?
Rose: Exactly, and that’s why we have also forgot that free speech is important to minorities. If you look at social movements throughout history, women’s rights, workers’ rights, gay rights, black, the civil rights movement, they all benefitted from free speech. Without freedom of expression, they could not have gone all the way they’ve gone.
The powers that be in their time, they used hate speech laws, blasphemy laws, to silence these social movements for change. Today, it’s as if people have forgotten that history, that in fact freedom of speech is paramount to minority movements and individuals who are fighting for social change.
Rubin: Yeah, so I have one more question for you, which I think wraps this all up perfectly, which goes to the email that I get more than anything else, which is people tell me all the time they’re afraid to say what they think, not because they’re going to be killed by a Jihadist necessarily, but because they don’t want to be called a bigot or whatever, they don’t want to be de-friended on Facebook or any of that stuff. As someone who truly, in the scheme of things, you have been right in the center of this, this is your life for now on, what’s the—I think you’ve made the argument already—but what’s the best argument you can give from a personal thing? I would imagine the personal toll has probably been quite great. You said you have to live with certain security measures and things like that. What’s the best argument you can make of why we need more people?
Rose: I think you have.… It’s not nice to be called a bigot and a Nazi and a fascist, whatever, but you have to think through your own position. When I was faced with that challenge, I was very surprised because I didn’t have the intentions that people ascribed to me. I really had to think through what I believe in, and go through my experiences, the people I admire, the books I read, the principles I wanted to live my life in accordance with.
I ended up reinforcing my own conviction that that was the right thing to do, and that I was willing to defend those principles. Then, you had to stand by what you believe in, and just keep on explaining yourself and then hope at some point people will get it. If they don’t, maybe in a generation or two there will be people who read your stuff and think, “Oh yeah, I didn’t think about that. That’s true.”
That’s the way I look at it now. I have grandkids, and I’m starting to think about what my country and Europe will look like in thirty, forty, fifty years. I see my contribution not so much as something that is going on right now. I’m sure that future generations will face some of the same challenges at some point, and so I hope that they can go back and read about my story, and hopefully learn a lesson or two.
Rubin: Yeah, and that’s a perfectly fitting ending. We’re going to be speaking at UCLA tomorrow, although by the time this video’s gone up, we’ll have done it already. I love the idea of getting in front of some young minds, and just putting it out there, and then hopefully they pick up on some of it. Some of them may be angry at us, but it’s been a pleasure talking to you. You guys can find out more about Flemming and check out his new book Tyranny of Silence at TyrannyOfSilence.net.