Artist Lars Vilks's house in Nyhamnsläge, Sweden
SWEDISH ARTIST LARS VILKS has long argued that freedom of expression stops when it comes to art and religion. But even he must be surprised at the amount of hatred and violence that outraged Islamists are aiming at him for drawing a single sketch.
In September 2007, Vilks published a caricature in a Swedish newspaper. (I have already written about Vilks in detail here.) It depicted the Prophet Mohammed with a human head and a dog’s body standing in the middle of a traffic circle. He immediately received death threats and the Swedish government has kept him under police protection ever since. In March of this year, an American woman calling herself “Jihad Jane” and seven persons in Ireland were arrested for plotting his assassination.
Last Tuesday evening, Vilks delivered a lecture at the University of Uppsala, during which he showed provocative religious images, including a film sequence depicting naked gay men with Mohammed masks engaging in sexual intercourse. A young Muslim man from the audience bodily attacked Vilks, injuring him slightly and bringing the lecture to a halt.
Vilks remained defiant after the incident. “I understand that I have passed the point of no return,” he told his local newspaper. “There is no way back. The simplest path for me is straight ahead. To continue demanding the right to freedom of expression and not yield to threats.”
The following day, an assailant calling himself “al Qatari” hacked his website and peppered it with slogans denouncing Vilks and calling on the site’s visitors to read the Koran. That same day, a new Facebook group appeared, calling itself "Murder the son of a bitch (Larks Vilks)." It immediately attracted 400 members. In a newspaper interview, Vilks shrugged off both the lecture incident and the cyber attack. “Maybe they want to give me a drubbing, but they aren’t murderers.”
Vilks might want to reconsider that statement. According to press reports, some time between yesterday evening and late this morning, while Vilks was out, an unknown attacker shattered several windows in the artist’s house near the southern Swedish town of Höganäs and tossed beverage bottles filled with gasoline through the windows and against the outside walls. Neighbours discovered the fire, which by this time had extinguished itself, at 11 a.m. According to Vilks's website, police have also discovered knives on the property. They are treating the incident as an arson attack. The damage is minor, but the shock must be profound.
“Of course, this is rather difficult,” Vilks, who has since moved to an undisclosed location, told Helsingborgs Dagblad. “I’m not afraid, but I also can’t brush it off. I have to take this seriously.”
An artist is being threatened with bodily harm and outright murder for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Shouldn’t we all be taking this seriously?