Northern Light

Cartoon crisis in Sweden

A group of secular Muslims in Sweden wants to organize an exhibition showing drawings of the prophet Mohammed as a dog and subsequently stage a public debate with the artist, Islamic scholars and other opinion makers.

SEMUS, Secular Muslims of Sweden, presented their initiative last week as a reaction to Swedish art institutions’ rejection of drawings of Mohammed made by Lars Vilks. Hooman Anvari, spokesman for SEMUS, explained that the debate about the drawings has focused exclusively on the issue of free speech, and in order to move beyond this issue somebody has to show the drawings to the public.

”It’s impossible to engage in a public debate about the drawings without having seen them. That’s the reason why I find it important to have them on public display. It’s my intention to have a dialogue with Lars Vilks about the drawings,” Hooman Anvari told Svenska Dagbladet.

He added that he finds the drawing tasteless and awful.

Lars Vilks, 60, who was a professor at the Academy of Art in Bergen, Norway 1997-2003, said that he had been invited by an art school to participate in an exhibition having dogs as it main theme. The organizers put no restrictions on the works to be presented. But right before the opening of the exhibition the art school removed the drawings of Mohammed. So did another art institution. Both referred to a possible security threat, and one of them in an interview with Jyllands-Posten underlined the fact that the drawings might be offensive to the Muslim minority in Sweden.

The controversy has caused a heated debate in Sweden, and last week a member of parliament called on the government to provide security for art institutions that present exhibitions with controversial art.

”Artistic freedom and the right to free speech has been put on hold and needs to be defended,” Cecilia Wikstroem, member of parliament for the conservative People’s party, said to Dagens Nyheter.

”What we have seen over the last couple of years since the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in Jyllands-Posten is that people are showing all kinds of considerations,” she added.

She has raised the issue with the minister of justice and the government.

”It should be possible to call on the police in cases like this. We need a serious survey of the situation in order to find out what happened to free speech. Do the institutions feel more insecure today? If there is a sense of a growing threat then we have to provide ressources to strengthen security.”

Lars Vilks, the artist behind the drawings, doesn’t think there is any need for more security.

”The threat only exists in the minds of the organizers. They have watched too much television,” Vilks told Dagens Nyheter.

But he supports the idea that art institutions should be able to contact the authorities if they feel threatend.

Writing on his blog Vilks acknowledges that his work hasn’t been supported by the art world.

”To change the situation the art world has to reconsider its relationship with Islam and so called weak minorities lacking confidence. But that’s a big change that isn’t likely to take place in the near future. Anyway, I think I am on to something: When you define Muslims as weak and lacking confidence you create a reality of ”we feel sorry for them”. You put a whole group of people under the same label ”weak”. Probably, it would be better to do exactly the opposite. I hold the view that this exposed group is strong enough to be taken serious and that they are capable of defending themselves in a debate.”

It’s important to stress that the Swedish media for a long time has avoided this kind of debate, and it’s a widely held view in Sweden that the Danes are xenophofic and racist because of it’s tighter immigration policy. Many swedes think that the publication of the Mohammed cartoons in Jyllands-Posten proved this point. None of the big Swedish newspapers published Jyllands-Posten’s cartoons back in 2006. Jyllands-Posten and other Danish newspapers have published Vilks drawings of the prophet. It caused no reaction whatsoever.