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'Outrageous': Publisher of infamous cartoon flays Sony

Flemming Rose

The Danish newspaper editor who received death threats after publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammed with a bomb in his turban is criticizing the decision by Sony Pictures Entertainment to cancel the release of “The Interview,” a comedy about an assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Flemming Rose is foreign editor at Jyllands-Posten, the largest daily newspaper in Denmark, and is author of “The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited A Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech.” Massive, deadly protests erupted in the Middle East after Rose published the Muhammed cartoon in 2005.

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computer network was attacked by hackers on Nov. 24. Sony’s computer network was crippled and almost 38 million files were stolen. Since then, highly damaging and embarrassing files stolen from Sony have been doled out on file-sharing websites.

This week, Sony killed “The Interview” after the hackers threatened to carry out a Sept. 11-style terrorist attack on theaters showing the movie.

Rose is deeply disappointed by the decision.

“I think it’s a disaster. I think it’s outrageous that Sony is caving in to this kind of pressure, even though I understand they would like to protect their people working for them,” said Rose. “Sony is outsourcing the right to decide what is going to run in U.S. movie theaters to a dictator in North Korea.”

The FBI confirmed Friday that North Korea was behind the cyberattacks on Sony Pictures.

“As a result of our investigation, and in close collaboration with other U.S. Government departments and agencies, the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions,” an FBI statement said.

Far from solving the problem, Rose says succumbing to this sort of cyber bullying only encourages more of it.

“It’s a slippery slope. If you give in to this kind of intimidation and threats, you will not get less of this. You will get more because you tell the intimidators that it works,” he said.

Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Flemming Rose:

Rose hopes Sony executives will have a change of heart and release the film. If they don’t, he has some other ideas to mitigate the damage to the freedom of speech.

“I think they should put it free online or they should call on every movie studio in Hollywood to do movies with similar plots,” said Rose.

Nine years ago, Rose was faced with a similar decision. After learning that the author of a children’s book about Muhammed could not get an illustrator to work on the project over fears of backlash, he commissioned Danish cartoonists to draw the founder of Islam, both to see if the cartoonists would limit their own expression and to start a dialogue about self-censorship in Denmark. Rose says he never thought about nixing the idea, although he never expected the reaction the image of Muhammed with a bomb in his turban would have in the Middle East.

The cartoon drew limited reaction for weeks. Three months later, Muslim groups in the Middle East launched protests in which more than 200 people were killed. Rose still has no regrets about his decision and says there is neither blood on his hands nor on his newspaper.

“People often say the cartoons triggered violence in the Middle East. I think that’s a very unfortunate phrase. There were people who made a decision to commit violence. It bears no automatic or mechanical relationship between publishing cartoons that cause offense to some people and committing violence. It’s a decision that individuals make and they should be held accountable for what they do,” said Rose.

Beyond that, Rose says standing up for freedom of speech and of the press is vital for those who wish to preserve them and it’s a lesson Sony and other companies need to embrace.

“If one person stands up, it’s very easy to silence him. But if one thousand, five thousand, ten thousand and even one million do the same thing, it will dilute the fear. You cannot go after one million people,” he said.

After Sony canceled the Christmas Day release of “The Interview,” some theater owners announced they would replace the film with “Team America: World Police,” a profane film mocking then-North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il made by the creators of the “South Park” television show. However, Paramount Pictures quickly blocked any theaters from showing the movie. Rose says that only compounds the problem.

“At some point, nobody will be able to say anything. It will all cause some kind of offense. If people feel they get their way when they threaten when they are offended by something, this is an open-ended process that will end in a tyranny of silence,” said Rose.

After the cartoon controversy, Rose spent several years traveling the world and debating the importance of free speech versus respecting various cultures and other sensibilities.

“This is a global debate and we need a global solution. I think that the global solution will be a global first amendment that free speech is a fundamental right in any society and it cannot be balanced by religious sensibilities or dignity or certain versions of history,” he said.