I am honored to present the Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty to someone who has been my hero ever since he burst upon the worldwide scene in 2005 with a bold challenge to the growing self-censorship in Denmark and Europe and who has also continued to challenge the increasing self-censorship everywhere, including right here in the United States.
Too many politicians, journalists, and others refrain from candidly criticizing even the most discriminatory, repressive, and violent actions that too many Muslims carry out in the name of Islam, fearing charges of “Islamophobia.” In contrast, Flemming Rose continues to speak out, not only despite such false charges, but even more bravely, despite being subject to credible death threats — the same threats that have already been carried out through brutal murders of others who also have refused to stop analyzing, questioning, criticizing, and satirizing.
Flemming Rose embodies the courage that is the cornerstone of our liberties, as eloquently described by another of my First Amendment heroes, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. As Brandeis declared, “Those who won our independence in a revolution were not cowards ... [They] believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty.” To quote the concluding phrase of our National Anthem, we cannot remain “the land of the free” unless we remain “the home of the brave.”
To be sure, it is certainly legitimate to shield oneself, as well as one’s employees and others, from credible threats of violence. However, in too many cases the reason for not saying something about the critically important topic of Islam and political Islamism is not fear of physical harm, but rather fear of offending some people’s feelings. And yes, we should avoid hurting feelings, but not at the cost of stifling discussion on matters of public concern.
Let me quote a recent Supreme Court case. You’ll be happy to learn that eight of the nine Supreme Court justices agreed with that principle. They upheld the right to engage in deeply offensive speech which insulted many groups and individuals, including Catholics and the Pope. As the Court declared, “Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain. But [our nation has] chosen to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
Flemming Rose has continued to defend free speech despite reasonable fear for his very life, but we have seen all too many counterexamples: Self-censorship of even the most germane and important expression about Islam/Islamism and current controversies, even by institutions that should be leaders in standing up for free speech, such as Yale University Press and the New York Times. Yale Press cut from a book about the Danish cartoon controversy not only those cartoons themselves, but also all other images of Muhammad, including the Gustave Doré image in Dante’s Inferno. And the New York Times did not publish Charlie Hebdo’s first post-massacre cover, featuring an image of Muhammad holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign and shedding a tear. These kinds of incidents perpetuate “the tyranny of silence,” to quote the title of Flemming Rose’s inspiring book published by the Cato Institute.
In contrast, Flemming Rose’s outspoken advocacy is promoting not only individual liberty, but also equality and safety, the very concerns that are cited by those who practice and defend self-censorship. But self-censorship actually undermines those goals. Equality is undermined by paternalistically presuming that all or most Muslims share certain attitudes and must be shielded from candid or controversial speech about Islam. And let us not forget who are the foremost victims of the violence and oppression that some Muslims carry out in the name of Islam — namely, other Muslims. Moreover, self-censorship by non-Muslims hardly helps the many Muslims who welcome discussion and reform of their faith.
Likewise when it comes to safety, for that goal as well, succumbing to censorial pressure does more harm than good. Let me quote Salman Rushdie, another courageous free speech champion. “How to defeat terrorism?” he asks. “Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life.” And that point was also made by Bruce Schneier, who has been dubbed “one of the world’s foremost security experts.” As he put it, “The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially when you have a price on your head. Tonight we honor a rare individual who actually has lived up to this challenge, who has dedicated his life to freedom, not fear: Flemming Rose.