The Cartoon Crisis Comes to Sweden

vilks.jpgJeez, here we go again. Swedish artist Lars Wilks (pictured) has, during the course of the last three weeks, had a handful of drawings, amongst other things showing the Prophet Muhammed as a so-called ’roundabout dog’ rejected from two exhibitions in the province to which he had been invited to participate. A media storm has followed, and he has since then also submitted his drawings to Moderna Museet in Stockholm asking them to exhibit the drawings on principle. They also rejected them. Predictably, he is crying foul and berating Swedish political correctness and self-censorship, etc., and he is joined by other critics, amongst them Flemming Rose, who was the editor responsible for the commissioning and publication of the infamous Danish Muhammed cartoons in the Fall of 2005 (note that this is unfortunately the only link in English here).

Let’s see: Vilks explicitly draws these images to ‘test’ the ‘tolerance’ of the art institutions he is submitting them to and when they’re rejected he takes that as confirmation that something is rotten in Sweden. That may be the case, and it is certainly unacceptable that Vilks has received a couple of death threats over the last weeks. But on the other hand: can you blame an institution for not wanting to show what is evidently scribbled, substandard drawings done deliberately to provoke and not much else? And does such a rejection necessarily mean that free speech and civilization as we know it is in danger?

What is the point of continuing these juvenile provocations in countries where Muslims are a minority, and already the object of suspicion and at times discrimination? I’m all for open criticism of religion and certainly do not think Islam or the Prophet Muhammed are, or should be, above criticism, and I was also appalled at the international reaction to the Danish cartoons, but this is just too facile. The great thing about free speech is that it gives us a choice – to speak, certainly, but also not to speak. It is a right that should be exercised responsibly. If someone wants to exhibit these drawings, fine. If someone doesn’t, fine. It’s not the end of civilization.

The organization for Secular Muslims in Sweden, SEMUS, initially spoke out in favour of exhibiting the drawings, but withdrew their support after Vilks did an anti-Semitic cartoon to prove his point. Vilks provides running commentary on the case on his blog. Also, read Rackham’s coverage of the Danish Muhammed cartoons in English here and in Danish here.

Vilks, by the way, has at times produced interesting work. His once-controversial, once illegal, magnificent castle of driftwood and debris off the North side of Kullen – on the coast between Arild and Mölle – Nimis, and the ancillary fantasy nation of Ladonia. Definitely worth a trip if you’re in those parts.

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