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Posted at 2:30 PM ET, 05/26/2010

Why reinvited Swedish 'Muhammad' artist continues to make news

By Michael Cavna


Now that controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks has just been invited to speak again at Uppsala University -- where a violent protest ended his lecture weeks ago -- the question arises anew: Do Vilks's actions continue to merit making the news?

Cartoonist and political-cartoon syndicator Daryl Cagle, for one, has had enough of the whole story.

"Drawing Muhammad now is a cheap way for cartoonists to try to draw attention to themselves," Cagle tells Comic Riffs, adding: "I find Lars Vilks interesting in that he is no cartoonist, just a self-absorbed fine arts flake -- but the media really want to label him as a cartoonist."

Vilks, of course, drew his Muhammad-as-a-dog sketches for a 2007 "The Dog In Art" exhibition. Later that year, a bounty was placed on his head.

Vilks, 53, made international headlines this year when authorities said he was the target of an alleged murder plot that led to the arrests of two American women. He subsequently has made world news when his lecture at Uppsala University turned violent and when his home in southern Sweden was hit by a fire-bomb attack.

Recent attack at Lars Vilks lecture:

Vilks's images came a year after newspapers ran a dozen Danish cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, sparking protests in numerous Muslim countries. Some Muslims consider any depiction of Muhammad to be blasphemous.

In reinviting Vilks, Uppsala University said: "Violence and threats of violence cannot be allowed to silence people, not on campus or elsewhere."

Vilks might not be a political cartoonist, but what he has become to some -- whether by calculation or unforeseen circumstance -- is a symbol of "absolute" free speech, as well as perhaps the world's most high-profile targeted artist, fatwa-style, since Salman Rushdie.

With that global profile, most every Vilks appearance, every lecture, every opinionated utterance -- and if more occur, every attack or plot -- will continue to make news.

A week after the Facebook-fanned "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" campaign, it also will be curious to see whether Muhammad depictions by other artists will raise ire and draw critical fire.

"The story is mature now," Cagle says, "There should be nothing newsworthy about giving attention to the next narcissistic guy who wants to draw attention to himself by drawing Muhammad, or the next time a Muslim group condemns that guy, or the next time a publication decides to print or not print the drawing."

Cagle also notes: "I think it speaks well for the cartooning community that so few legitimate cartoonists were interested in 'Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.' " Numerous political cartoonists told Comic Riffs last week that though they fully support free speech, they would not participate in "Draw Muhammad Day."

Since last week's event, Vilks isn't the only artist making news by drawing Muhammad. South African cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, who goes by the pen name "Zapiro," received threats because of his "Draw Muhammad Day" cartoon -- in which Muhammad lies on a therapist's couch and says, "Other prophets have followers with a sense of humour!..." Today, the Mail & Guardian editor Nic Dawes -- after meeting with the Council of Muslim Theologians -- reportedly said he won't apologize for running the cartoon.

Last week, Dawes published an online letter to readers explaining his decision to run the cartoon. At one point, Dawes writes: "This is an enormously complex and sensitive subject, but I felt that Zapiro had attempted to handle it with care. Unlike some other cartoonists who have tackled the same subject, he had not used Islamophobic imagery, nor had he mocked the prophet."

Zapiro is no stranger to political controversy, which includes having been sued by ANC President Jacob Zuma for defamation.

Also receiving threats as a result of "Draw Muhammad Day" were online administrators. The person who runs one Facebook page titled "Everybody Draw Mohammad Day" says she drew a range of response. "I have been bombarded with a torrent of angry letters, repeated hacking attempts and yes, death threats," says the site administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity and who goes by the moniker "Infidel Bear." "Some have been somewhat vague, and yet many others were very clear about their intentions. Members of the group have been subjected to the same treatment -- many have received death threats against themselves and members of their families."

"Our goal is to demonstrate that it's OK to talk about Islam specifically, and that if we want to draw Mohammad, we will not be intimidated or silenced by those who want to subjugate us simply because they find what we do offensive. Muslim religious guidelines do not apply to non-Muslims -- it's as simple as that," says "Infidel Bear," whose site has more than 18,000 "supporters."

Reason magazine also participated in last week's campaign by holding a "Draw Muhammad Day" contest (which produced three winners). Editor-in-chief Matt Welch says Reason didn't receive "much in the way of specific eyebrow-raising threats, nor frankly did I expect there to be."

"I certainly take heart that the world did not blow up on Thursday, and 1.4-billion Muslims didn't activate into suicide bombers just because some kids got goofy on the Facebook," Welch tells Comic Riffs but dryly. "I think it actually provoked some pretty interesting discussions about the comparative international rules and mores regarding free speech, which was indeed the point."

Lars Vilks, likewise, will continue to provoke free-speech discussions. As he plans to return to Uppsala, he will also continue to make news if he provokes anything more than that.


By Michael Cavna  | May 26, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  General, The Political Cartoon  | Tags:  Lars Vilks, Muhammad art and cartoons  
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Comments

Just like with Satanic Verses, if the Muslum world had just ignored it, it would have gone away. Now this caracture cartoon is an example of how intolerant the Muslum faith is to any form of critisizm.

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