MAY 15, 2010 1:12PM

Past the point of no return? Swedish artist attacked again

Rate: 7 Flag

  Vilks house
Artist Lars Vilks's house in Nyhamnsläge, Sweden
(Helsingborgs Dagblad)

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?


Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Alan, yes, we should be taking this very seriously. This is soooo difficult. Is this any different than the many cartoon, SNL jokes, or anything else that depicts Catholic priests as nothing but pedophiles? No. The oppression of this artist must be taken seriously, his work must not be in an authoritative sense. See what I'm getting at? Then, I think...I see stuff about Jews that puts my hair on end. But, I have to dismiss it as personal and just look at it as expression. We cannot forget the propaganda art around Naziism...this is a very tough issue. And I have got nowhere in solving it. xox
Theo Van Gogh also thought "they weren't murderers" and when his Islamic killer was about to stab him to death he pleaded with him, "Can't we just talk?" Of course we have to take this seriously, I thought 911 was the passing point for everyone. We are all infidels in their eyes and in the Koran. We are allowed to be killed because we don't worship who they worship. They've never gone through an enlightenment, they live in the 7th century mentally.

It's very frustrating how so few people take the Islamic threat to our freedom of speech seriously. And to watch some countries, including our own, make changes due to our fear of their violence.

I hope Vilks does not go the way of Van Gogh.
I feel the need to put myself in context here. Revolution begins in the heart. When we let go of this dire clinging to ideas, this defending the faith mentality in so many things, not just religion...this will change. When I am fully revolutionized from the inside, I'll let ya know....that will probably be on my death bed...xox
I find it ironic that by threatening Vilks with violence these Muslim fundamentalists are conforming to the exhagerated and simplified image of them that he promotes. The best way to counteract this kind of prejudice would be to engage in cordial yet direct debate with him, or, as far as I'm concerned to publish caricatures demeaning the western way of life, which, what with its materialist excesses and the like, is just as worthy of scorn as Islam.
It is very important that you are drawing our attention to these incidents.
Vilks attackers are irrational. There is no rational way to deal with them.
I agree - the whole issue has taken on a life of its own, with its own self-preservation instinct. That's the hardest kind to bring down.
Does he also depict Jesus and Buddha etc. in the same fashion? Seems like he likes all this attention he is getting. I think freedom of speech is the dearest thing to me. I don't like the idea of Muhammad being depicted like a dog, but an artist has a right to do so. Use cartoons to insult the artist, who has created a public work. Don't kill him. Use free speech. I can understand the outrage his speech has generated. I could never fathom the outrage Salmon Rushdie engendered.
I think' I'll have to join the "Draw Muhammed Day" movement on Thursday. This nonsense has got to stop. Maybe it will if we bombard them with cartoons, giving them more targets than they could ever hit.

As for your marginal note: I don't think there's a conspiracy here (though there are some nasty right-wing groups in Sweden who might be capable of such a thing). I do think we're talking about a few idiots ruining it for the vast majority of Muslims. We should always take care to separate the extremists from that peaceful majority. The object is not to start a war of Islam v. free speech, but to nip that war in the bud.
As far as the Swedish situation concern, I also don't see an outside conspiracy (although I've been following the Swedish press pretty closely), but the South Park story sounds about as spontaneous as Astroturf. According to the LA Times last month:

"Revolution Muslim, the extremist group that issued the graphic warning, is a relatively small fringe organization based out of New York, said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.

"The organization, which formed in 2007 and includes about a dozen members, is mostly known for posting inflammatory and often threatening comments on its website, including a poem last October during the Jewish High Holy Days asking God to kill all the Jews. Its members also stage protests in front of New York mosques, advocating a more fundamentalist form of Islam. (...)

"The ADL has identified Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, the blogger who posted the warning about "South Park," as Zachary A. Chesser, a former student at George Mason University who lives in Virginia and has become more active with Revolution Muslim in the last several months.

Al-Amrikee noted: "Perhaps they are not, perhaps they should be, only time will tell."

"Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights and advocacy group, called Revolution Muslim "an extreme fringe group that has absolutely no credibility within the Muslim community.

"In fact, most Muslims suspect they were set up only to make Muslims look bad," Hooper said. "We just have very deep suspicions. They say such outrageous, irresponsible things that it almost seems like they're doing it to smear Islam."
@Adrian...interesting angle. Interestingly Western media is full of critics who lambaste the excesses of its culture. True progress will happen within Islamic cultures when their moderate voices start "speaking" up a bit more. Essentially what's needed is an Al Jazeera equivalent of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. What may be preventing a voice like this from emerging is aggression like what is detailed in this article, but imagine a middle eastern critic expressing such a sentiment...oh boy...would there be trouble.

I think what lies at the root of the violent passion we see on the fringes of this beautiful religion (I have met many Muslims who have devastated me with their sense of calm and general ease, it was actually infectious) is anger over an outsider's derogatory opinion. How would you feel if your neighbor repeatedly insulted you while in the company of his or her family. If your family was going through some troubling times it may be a little hard to deal with...

"How dare you besmirch the name of my Prophet. Do you even have any idea how much He means to me? I hope you do, because to be so nonchalant makes me question just what you value. Look, I find substance in things other than your convoluted criticisms which become moot the minute they are published, printed or uploaded because the comparisons you make between me and so-called “civilization” are tenuous at best? Why? Because your civilized society is evolving all the time. The words in my book endure and this bothers you immensely. Those clever iPads you drool over can't even subvert them. You may think you’re pushing the envelope with your complacent snarkiness…yeah, I get it, the suicide bombings and violent attacks inspire you to take that beloved broad bush out of your critical closet… but check this out…find something to believe in, even if it isn’t Allah or God, how about believing in your damn people instead of that currency whose value is aggressively arbitrary. Yeah, that’s it…that’s why we baffle you so much. You kill for money, we kill for everything but…so now what? Got some more stones to cast? John 8:7 bitches. You dropped the most devastating suicide bombs our species have ever seen. Think about it. You killed the very thing you claim to protect so veraciously. Innocence."

Sorry guys, this stuff just falls out of me sometimes. I don’t mean any harm…just passionate about this stuff…we’re all one race no matter our petty differences…yes, lives may be at stake, but that doesn't make the differences any less petty…actually more so. Peace.