‘The attacks against me are working’: Lars Vilks

The strategy of attacks and intimidation employed by critics of Lars Vilks is working, argues controversial Swedish artist, who has seen his lecturing activities dry up over organizers fears of riots and being labelled as "racist".

'The attacks against me are working': Lars Vilks

Just as a circle has no end, the same fate seems to have hit the national scourge which is the roundabout dog. It keeps coming back as if it was today’s news.

Recently, another intermezzo occurred at Karlstad University where my lecture was interrupted by a loud group of egg throwers.

The reaction kicked off when I showed one of my pictures from 2006, meant as a comment on the then on-going Danish caricature battle.

The image depicts the prophet and HC Andersen on a joint field trip to the Carlsberg brewery.

The image is impossible to publish in the conventional media but can be seen here.

The same picture was exhibited in Norway without causing a stir.

However, it was mostly a coincidence that the attack was staged in Karlstad as the instigators were just waiting for a convenient opportunity.

You might wonder who they were. In the media they were described as “a group from the audience” and all you can gather from that description is that they weren’t neo-Nazis because that group is always identified in media reports.

My speech was about freedom of expression and the development of the roundabout dog story.

It had a special connection to Karlstad as the whole journey began in the little community of Tällerud where the sketches were meant to have been exhibited in 2007.

The organizers of the recent event, which took place on February 21st, was the university’s association of international affairs (Utrikespolitiska föreningen), a version of which exists at many universities.

They invite speakers representing different sides of the public debate on a regular basis.

That I had been invited displeased the Islamic Culture Association (Islamiska kulturföreningen) and the Karlstad Young Muslims (Unga muslimer i Karlstad) who urged to a boycott of my speech with the motivation:

”Lars Vilks is a controversial individual who is abusing the freedom of expression that we all enjoy and using it to provoke in such a way that it creates tension between different societal groups. We are worried that the association of international affairs in Karlstad, in cooperation with Karlstad University, has chosen to invite him to speak about the boundaries of freedom of expression after his previous actions and provocation against Muslims through his caricature.”

For these organizations, the outer limit of freedom of expression exists at the point where symbols of the Islamic religion are called into question.

One has to admit that firing on all cylinders has proved efficient. Because the winners, at least in the short term, are the egg throwers.

It may seem like a victory that the lecture could continue after the rabble-rousers had been removed but it was a Pyrrhic victory.

Respectable institutions and representatives will dissociate themselves from those types of methods but not much more than that. And which organizations will want to arrange lectures that risk ending in an uproar and furthermore require significant security measures?

Add to this the demand from regular Muslim associations and their supporters that they be “respected” on their own terms.

The strategy is a winning one.

Images of the prophet have long been officially prohibited and the racist label hovers over those who want to debate the situation.

It is therefore rather infrequently that I have the opportunity to appear in public and explain things from my perspective. Further, this double fear (risk of riots + possible racist label) has led to a significant reduction in even my regular lecturing schedule.

During the discussion after the recent speech in Karlstad, one Muslim in the audience voiced the recurring opinion that my sketches were badly made. He ended his contribution by saying that his children could have done a better job, then got up and left.

Technique and style can’t be completely irrelevant as it is often brought up in discussion. However, I have been accommodating in this issue and can offer a large selection of styles and variations.

Admittedly, it is a question of the same image of the roundabout dog which has been adapted in different ways. These pictures are also impossible to publish in conventional media but may be seen here.

Lars Vilks is a Swedish artist.

This article was originally published in Swedish on the Newsmill opinion website. English translation by The Local.

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Swedish artist Lars Vilks, known for Muhammad cartoon, killed in car accident

Swedish artist Lars Vilks, known for his cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as well as his huge wooden sculptures, died in a car accident on Sunday.

Swedish artist Lars Vilks gives a lecture
Swedish artist Lars Vilks, pictured here giving a lecture in 2015, died in a car collision on Sunday. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The 75-year-old has lived under police protection due to death threats over his 2007 Prophet Muhammad drawing. He and two police officers were killed in a collision with an oncoming truck, Swedish police confirmed to AFP, and the accident is currently not being treated as suspicious.

“This is being investigated like any other road accident. Because two policemen were involved, an investigation has been assigned to a special section of the prosecutor’s office,” a police spokesperson told AFP, adding that there was no suspicion of foul play.

The accident occurred near the small town Markaryd when the car Vilks was travelling in crashed into an oncoming truck. Both vehicles caught fire and the truck driver was sent to hospital for treatment, according to police. In a statement, the police said the cause of the accident was unclear.

“The person we were protecting and two colleagues died in this inconceivable and terribly sad tragedy,” said regional police head Carina Persson.

Vilks had been under police protection since 2010, after his cartoon of Muhammad with a dog’s body published in Swedish newspapers three years earlier prompted outrage among those who consider depictions of the Muslim prophet deeply offensive or blasphemous. Al-Qaeda offered a $100,000 reward for Vilks’ murder.

The depiction also sparked diplomatic friction, with Sweden’s then prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt meeting ambassadors from several Muslim countries to ease tensions. In 2015, Vilks survived a gun attack at a free-speech conference in Copenhagen that left a Danish film director dead.

While the Muhammad drawing is what Vilks was best known for internationally, he was primarily a sculptor.

His most significant work is the driftwood sculpture Nimis, which he began building in a Skåne national park in 1980.

This work was also not without controversy; Vilks built it illegally without acquiring a permit, sparking a legal dispute with local authorities who demanded it be destroyed. The artist sold both Nimis and a second artwork, and although he was fined for building them, and Nimis was badly damaged in a 2016 fire, they remain largely standing today.