Flemming Rose, the Danish editor of the newspaper Jyllans-Posten, in an event on freedom of expression, at the Press Association today Saving Freedom of Expression in a Diverse, Digital and Complex World Requires a Global Conversation

03/07/2015

Migration and technology ‘are a challenge, because when information travels on the Internet it loses its context’ and that ‘creates misunderstandings and manipulations’

Freedom and tolerance go hand in hand. In the absence of tolerance, in terms of the possibility of living with discourses that seem offensive, there is no freedom’

‘Muslims in Europe have to redefine blasphemy and abjuration in a manner consistent with a multi-religious reality in a free society’

Zarzalejos: ‘Violence takes all sense away from a debate on the limits to freedom of expression and shifts such a debate to the limits to those who want to put an end to it’

‘The only debate we should not accept is the one arising from the idea that loyalty to beliefs is incompatible with loyalty to our status as free citizens’

Álvarez de Toledo: ‘Combating fear and strongly supporting those who fight against it is our great moral obligation’

The editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Flemming Rose, has said today that saving freedom of expression ‘in this diverse, digital and complex world’ requires ‘a global conversation’, as ‘freedom of expression is a common issue’. However, he regretted that ‘we are going in the opposite direction and we are having less and less debate and more fragmentation’. Accompanying Rose were FAES Secretary-General, Javier Zarzalejos, and the director of the International Department of FAES Foundation, Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo.

At a conference in the Press Association on global threats to free speech, Rose set the focus on Europe and on the context of globalization, noting that ‘the debate on freedom of expression is a global debate, and it is always the same regardless of where it occurs.’ ‘The debate is about how freedom of expression is protected and what kind of considerations come into balance,’ he said. ‘Throughout history, two principles have been confronted, freedom of speech and freedom of speech with some 'buts', which is what has prevailed,’ he noted.

The two current features affecting the debate, he stated, are migration, which makes ‘societies more complex and diverse’, and technology, the effect of which is that ‘something which was published in a small country in a language few people understand becomes accessible worldwide and that leads to a political reaction.’ Migration and technology, therefore, ‘are a challenge, because when information travels on the Internet it loses its context’ and that ‘creates misunderstandings and manipulations’.

‘The only right that has no place in democracy is the right to not be offended,’ Rose said, who added, ‘that is the price we must pay for freedom of expression.’ In his opinion, ‘the crossroads posed by the debate on the limits to freedom of expression can only be solved in two ways.’ ‘We can agree that 'if you accept my taboo, I will accept yours', a seemingly polite principle which would lead to a tyranny of silence that will eventually suffocate freedom of expression, or we can ask ourselves what the limits are and conclude that there is only one key limit: to incite violence,’ he explained.

FREEDOM AND TOLERANCE
For Rose, to win the battle for freedom of expression we must ‘relearn concepts such as the link between freedom and tolerance and the distance between saying and doing.’ ‘Freedom and tolerance go hand in hand,’ he noted before warning that ‘all societies have a lack of systematic tolerance’ and ‘the greater the tension between freedom and tolerance, the greater the threat to Western democracy.’ ‘Tolerance, as the ability to live with speeches we hate or consider offensive, becomes meaningless if you cannot say what the other does not want to hear. In absence of this, freedom is lost, because you will ultimately only want to listen to that with which you agree,’ he stated.

According to Rose, then, ‘Muslims in Europe have to face the issue of blasphemy and abjuration and redefine both concepts in a manner consistent with a multi-religious reality in a free society.’

The watchword of Western civilization is that we solve our differences with words and not with violent actions,’ Rose also noted. However, he lamented that ‘this distance between words and deeds is being undermined,’ which ‘takes us back to the Middle Ages’. In this sense, Rose has declared to be against the laws which prohibit to express opinions ‘contrary to the official truth,’ as ‘in many parts of the world they are used to silence critics and dissidents.’

CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK
FAES Secretary-General, Javier Zarzalejos, said that ‘The only debate we should not accept is the one arising from the idea that loyalty to beliefs is incompatible with loyalty to our status as free citizens’ On the contrary, in his opinion, the public debate should be allowed ‘to make value judgments, not take as equally respectable ideas that are not and that take place within the constitutional framework’ of democratic societies.

Violence, imposing silence, takes all sense away from the debate on the limits to freedom of expression and shifts such a debate to the limits we must set to those who want to put an end to it,’ he said in his address.’ Freedom of expression is a scarce and threatened good around which battles are still fought,’ Zarzalejos stated, adding that ‘defending it is a challenge that concerns us, Western societies, out of solidarity with those who fight it and because we also have to wage those battles.’

Zarzalejos has established as part of the public debate on freedom of expression issues such as ‘the possibility of an Islam that embraces the secularism of European societies, the role of the left, the limits of multiculturalism and the challenges posed by new technologies.’ ‘The Western paradigm that we profit from and which has been entrusted to us is based on a precise idea of freedoms and their guarantee,’ he said, and rejected the ‘accusations of dogmatism and Eurocentrism’ that, in his opinion, are made against those who work for the expansion of those freedoms.

SELF-CENSORSHIP
During her introduction to the International course, the director of this department in FAES Foundation, Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, said ‘the basic value of an open society is freedom of expression’ and that ‘we must confront fear’ because that is what ‘undermines open societies’. In this regard, she noted that ‘fear is a part of human beings and of any society but we must confront it. It no longer is imposed, but also expands in a stealthy, oozing form as self-censorship’.

In her opinion, societies have three kinds of groups, ‘believers in the ideas of fear, those who want to subject themselves; dissidents, those who fight to defend the truth with courage; and the vast majority of people, the social majority, who, fearing the consequences will not dare to speak out.’ Thus, she referred to Rose as the ‘dissident among dissidents’ and said that ‘combating fear and strongly supporting those who fight against it is our great moral obligation, in the Middle East, in Venezuela, in Cuba, in Europe and of course, in Spain.’