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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The freedom of press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders came out strongly against those behind the death threats for Vilks and his editor. In an official statement, the group offered the cartoonist and his editor their "total support."Skip to next paragraph
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"Freedom to draw cartoons cannot be taken away by such barbaric fundamentalism," Reporters Without Borders said. "Making death threats to the author of a cartoon by promising people a reward if they kill them is a shocking lack of humanity that must be soundly condemned."
"The Swedish authorities and Muslim organisations in Sweden have done everything to calm the situation and head off a major crisis of the kind that erupted after publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in Denmark in September 2005," it said. "Those making the threats now are pouring oil on the fire."
Cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad elicit such strong responses from the Muslim world not necessarily because they are critical of Islam, but more so because Islam forbids representations of Allah or the prophet. The British Broadcasting Corporation explains that though the Koran does not expressly ban such images, it says, "[Allah is] the originator of the heavens and the earth ... [there is] nothing like a likeness of Him." The passage is largely interpreted to mean that images of Allah or the prophet are forbidden. Express bans can be found in other Islamic teachings and traditions.
Islamic tradition or Hadith, the stories of the words and actions of Muhammad and his Companions, explicitly prohibits images of Allah, Muhammad and all the major prophets of the Christian and Jewish traditions.
More widely, Islamic tradition has discouraged the figurative depiction of living creatures, especially human beings. Islamic art has therefore tended to be abstract or decorative.
Shia Islamic tradition is far less strict on this ban. Reproductions of images of the Prophet, mainly produced in the 7th Century in Persian, can be found.
Depicting the prophet with a dog's body made the cartoon even more inflammatory for Muslims, because culturally, dogs are looked upon as unclean and, in some cases, devil-like creatures. Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic scholar, explains Islam's perception of dogs in an essay.
In a fashion similar to European medieval folklore, black dogs, in particular, were viewed ominously in the Islamic tradition. According to one tradition attributed to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, black dogs are evil, or even devils, in animal form. Although this report did reflect a part of pre-Islamic Arab mythology, it had a limited impact upon Islamic law. The vast majority of Muslim jurists considered this particular tradition to be falsely attributed to the Prophet, and therefore, apocryphal. Nevertheless, much of the Islamic discourse focused on a Prophetic report instructing that if a dog, regardless of the color, licks a container, the container must be washed seven times, with the sprinkling of dust in one of the washings.