Artist: ‘We needed a hot potato’

Artist Lars Vilks has spoken out about the controversy surrounding the publication of his picture of Muhammad as a dog in local newspaper Nerikes Allehanda.

Speaking to news agency TT, Vilks said that a provocation was necessary to create a debate.

“We must be free to criticize religions. Why should Islam be exempted from the sort of criticism that is commonplace for Judaism and Christianity?” he said.

Vilks added that “hot potato” was needed to force a proper discussion.

“A lot of people think we should have a nice debate, but when it comes down to it nobody is interested. An initiative of sorts is needed to bring matters to a head,” he said.

The artist added that his intention had been to launch a discussion on principles rather than Islam, said Vilks, something which he still felt was not out of the question.

“Of course this is coming from a secular perspective, but that too is a perspective that needs to have its voice heard,” he said.

Aside from criticizing religion, the artist indicated that he was interested in exploring the limits of freedom of speech.

“Where should they be drawn? A lot of people say that freedom of speech shouldn’t be exploited in all contexts, that one should be careful and exercise moral responsibility.

“There has to be discussion about where these limits should be set, and I don’t think they’ve been exceeded here,” he said.

Vilks said he had observed how Muslims were treated with greater care than other religious groups. It was with this in mind that he composed the drawing ‘Modern Jewish sow, swollen by capitalism’, a drawing he published on his own website as a response to a rhetorical question from a Swedish journalist.

“The ‘Jew sow’ is crystal clear and belongs to a particular situation. It’s a parody of a caricature, it’s so over-explicit. I understand that the picture itself in another context could be explosive. But I’m no anti-Semite.

“Otherwise I wouldn’t have written the accompanying text about how Muslims are able to have a go at Jews in the roughest manner without any reaction because people are afraid to attack Muslims,” said Vilks.

The artist concluded with a challenge to Sweden’s Muslim community.

“Above all this is about how Swedish Muslims handle this, whether they are ready to step forward as representatives of democracy,” he added.