Muhammad cartoon inspires musical in Sweden

A Swedish cartoonist already facing a slew of death threats over his depiction of the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog is working on a musical based on the drawing called "Dogs", a newspaper reported Wednesday.

Lars Vilks, whose cartoon featuring Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body provoked massive protests by Muslims when it was published in August, compared his new project with musicals like “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Cats”.

“Muhammad is also a superstar in the modern sense of the term,” Vilks told the Dagens Nyheter daily from New York, adding that around a dozen people were part of the project, carrying the working title “Dogs”.

“We haven’t decided yet if Muhammad will be portrayed by one or several people,” he said.

“Other characters featured will be the prime minister (of Sweden, Fredrik Reinfeldt), Iran’s president (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) and Al-Qaeda. They are best portrayed in musical form. We will also have an elegy by the ‘choir of the offended’,” he added.

Vilks insisted he was not worried about the death threats that have been pouring in from, among others, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, since his Muhammad drawing was first published, even though he received a new one as recently as last week.

“No, I’m not taking this too seriously. Ninety-nine percent is pure scare tactics,” he said, adding that he did not think the reactions to the musical, which will be staged in Sweden, would be as extreme as the cartoon protests.

“People will understand that this is a positive debate. A sense of humour about this has been missing so far.”

According to strict interpretations of Islam, all depictions of Muhammad in pictorial form are blasphemous and strictly forbidden.

Vilks, with the support of Swedish media and politicians, has however insisted on the importance of publishing such controversial material in defence of Sweden’s freedom of expression.

“It is part of the rules of the game to be able to criticize religion and politics. It is nothing personal and I do not have it in for anyone,” Vilks told Dagens Nyheter.

A similar debate emerged in Denmark and other European countries after several cartoons of the Islamic prophet were published in a Danish newspaper two years ago, sparking violent protests by Muslims around the world.