Swedish artist goes into hiding following Al Qaeda death threat
As tension mounted over a drawing offensive to Muslims, Swedish police told artist Lars Vilks he was no longer safe at home.
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Vilks's inspiration for the cartoon sprang from a local art phenomenon and his artistic desire to engage his audience by shocking or even enraging them. In the cartoon, Vilks refers to Muhammad as a "roundabout dog," which is a reference to homemade statues of dogs placed in many of Sweden's roundabouts, or rotaries. The sculptures drew much attention this past spring and became something of a public joke. Open Democracy, an online news magazine, reports that Vilks tried to move this "new, rather innocent national emblem into a potentially charged political arena by adding a 'Muhammad' reference to his cartoon dog."Skip to next paragraph
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[I]t is relevant to note that Lars Vilks's artistic premises rest on challenging his viewers by making them angry, engaged or amused. He is known not only in Sweden but in various parts of the world (including Canada) for his self-consciously "outrageous" installations. A less toxic example than the dog cartoon was his intervention at a nature compound near Kullen in southern Sweden, where Vilks - without a building permit - constructed a monument made of pieces of lumber and rubbish he had hauled in. The local community board protested - and with that Vilks had fulfilled his core purpose. Whether or not his piece of junk was to be confiscated was no longer the real issue, which for Vilks was the artist's right to provoke.
Lars Vilks, with his cartoon drawing of the Mohammed roundabout dog, pushed the same issue beyond the realm of local Swedish opinion and communal politics. Sweden has a large Muslim population composed of immigrants and (now) the children and grandchildren of immigrants, which has increased steadily during the Iraq war. It does not constitute a homogeneous group, and many of its members define themselves in secular terms. Yet a considerable number too view Vilks's roundabout dog as a deliberate act of defamation of the Muslim religion and an attempt to increase Swedish Muslims' alienation from mainstream society. Thus, even if the primary self-identification of Swedish Muslims is far from narrowly religious, as an ethnic group they feel offended by this act.
Fallout from the Vilks incident has not ballooned to Danish-cartoon proportions. But Al Qaeda in Iraq also threatened to attack Swedish businesses if Vilks failed to apologize. "[E]xpect us to strike the businesses of firms like Ericsson, Scania, Volvo, IKEA, and Electrolu," said the group's statement against Vilks. The Times of London reports that Swedish firms in the Middle East are taking the threats seriously.
Swedish companies lowered their profile in the Middle East yesterday amid fears that a newspaper cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog could spark bloody reprisals.
Åse Lindskog, a spokeswoman for Ericsson, said that staff had been told to keep a low profile in Muslim countries and to take extra care in deciding where to go or park their cars.
While the vast majority of Muslims have responded peacefully to the cartoons, the drawings have sparked outrage among some. Earlier this month, a number of Muslim nations officially condemned the cartoons. "The publication of this cartoon, which seeks to attack the character of the prophet Mohammed, is unacceptable, rejected, and condemned," a Jordian government spokesman told the Agence France-Presse. The Guardian reported that the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments responded to the cartoons, saying, "Such an irresponsible act is not conducive to friendly ties between the Islamic world and the West." The Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group representing 57 mostly Islamic nations, issued a statement calling the cartoons an "irresponsible and despicable act with malafied and provocative intention in the name of so-called freedom of expression."