In 2005, Flemming Rose, an editor at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Post, sparked worldwide controversy with a simple request to illustrators: he asked them to draw the prophet Muhammad.
The 12 cartoons that resulted were by turns funny, provocative, insightful, and maybe occasionally in poor taste. The reactions that they provoked, however, vastly outdid anything to be found in the cartoons themselves. Across the Islamic world, riots broke out, typically in front of Danish embassies. Scores of people were killed — none of whom appear to have had any direct connection to the cartoonists or the newspaper. Official international condemnations arrived from Muslim governments; these condemned the cartoons, but not the riots or the killings. A price was put on Rose’s head, and both he and the cartoonists who worked for him received numerous credible death threats, prompting them to go into hiding and secure permanent full-time bodyguards.
Recognizing the principles that were at stake, Rose refused to apologize or to back down. In the Washington Post he wrote, “I agree that the freedom to publish things doesn’t mean you publish everything. [But] 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.”
Censorship and editorial discretion are different. The latter takes place without threats; the former requires them. And all across the West, threats are now being made against those who propose to criticize Islam, or even simply to depict its prophet visually. Nor are the threats empty, as the 2011 and 2015 attacks on the Parisian satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo demonstrate.
For the past 10 years, censorship perpetrated by violent Islamic extremists has been a flash point in the long struggle for the freedom of the press. Through it all, Flemming Rose has been an exceptionally principled and articulate advocate of the importance of press freedom. In countless interviews, op-eds, and radio and TV appearances, he has made the case that all ideas deserve a public airing in an atmosphere free from threat and violence. His book,The Tyranny of Silence, chronicles the events of the cartoon controversy and details their chilling implications for the freedom of expression worldwide. It has become a modern classic on the need to stand up for intellectual, press, and artistic freedom.
Established in 2002 and presented every two years, the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty is the leading international award for significant contributions to advancing individual liberty. The Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman died in November of 2006.
The Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty’s Biennial Dinner and award presentation will be held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, on May 25, 2016.
Flemming Rose was chosen to receive the award through a public, worldwide nomination process.
The members of the 2016 International Selection Committee are:
- Gurcharan Das — Former CEO, Procter & Gamble India
- Peter Goettler — President, Cato Institute
- Karen Horn — Former Economics Editor, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany
- Ethelmae Humphreys — Chairman of the Board, TAMKO Building Products, Inc.
- Giancarlo Ibárgüen — Member of the Board of Trustees, Francisco Marroquín University, Guatemala
- John Mackey — Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Whole Foods Market
- Herman Mashaba — Former Chairman, Free Market Foundation, South Africa
- Ruth Richardson — Former Minister of Finance, New Zealand
- Vernon Smith — Nobel Laureate, Professor of Economics and Law, Chapman University