News & Politics

Muhammad Cartoonist Lars Vilks Killed in Suspicious Auto Accident

Bertil Ericson

Swedish artist Lars Vilks, 75, who was best known (some would say infamous) for drawing a cartoon of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, with a dog’s body, has been killed in a highly suspicious automobile accident in Sweden. He had previously survived two attempts on his life. It is possible that he was killed in a third.

According to the UK’s Daily Mail, Vilks was traveling in a police car along with two police officers around three o’clock in the afternoon on Sunday in Markaryd, Sweden. The officers were supposed to be protecting him in light of the previous attempts to kill him and the ongoing threat under which he was living. The identities of the officers have not been revealed.

The car Vilks was in was speeding. Suddenly, it veered into the lane of oncoming traffic, right into the path of a truck. This took some doing, because according to the Daily Mail, “the rescue service and the police said it would take a lot for a vehicle to be able to pass into the other lane, given that it is separated by a wire fence.” The police car carrying Vilks was wedged under the truck; both the police car and the truck caught fire. Vilks was killed, as were the two police officers traveling with him. The truck driver was seriously injured but survived, and will be questioned by police about what happened.

Swedish police spokesman Rickard Lundqvist declined to address the suspicious nature of the accident, saying only: “I cannot say at the moment if there are any criminal suspicions.” However, there is already plenty of reason to suspect foul play. Vilks drew Muhammad in 2007, intending to make a statement about the importance of freedom of speech and the necessity to stand up against violent intimidation. He said in March 2012 of his Muhammad cartoon: “I won’t say that I’m proud. But I think it’s an interesting work. With very few artistic effects I’ve managed to create a piece of art that expresses the essence of multiculturalism versus free speech. Through my art I have always worked for greater freedom — including freedom of expression — so I am very pleased.”

In this, he should have won the support of all those who believe in a free society and the freedom of speech and expression, including the freedom to offend, as a foundation of any society that is truly free. If any belief or group is off-limits for mockery or ridicule, a protected class has been formed and can exercise its tyranny unhindered.

But the West, having lost its confidence, its will, and its very sense of itself, did not stand up for Lars Vilks or the others who were challenging the attempt to intimidate the West into accepting Islamic blasphemy laws. Instead of being embraced by the intelligentsia, as he should have been, he was shunned and vilified as an “Islamophobe,” and suffered numerous attacks.

In July 2010, ironically while giving a lecture on the freedom of speech, Vilks was head-butted by one man in the audience and menaced by an angry crowd screaming “Allahu akbar.” Two years later, Colleen LaRose, a Muslim woman in Philadelphia who was known online as “Jihad Jane,” plotted to murder him. In 2015, a jihadi opened fire at a café where Vilks was speaking, again in defense of the freedom of speech.

Related: The Paradox of Muhammad Cartoonist Kurt Westergaard

Vilks, a humble, courteous and good-humored man, kept his head and tried to reason with those who hated him. He announced in June 2010 that he had joined a Facebook group called “Kill Lars Vilks.” In 2012, a group of Muslim men began screaming threats and hurling eggs at Vilks while he was speaking at the University of Karlstad. Vilks picked up one of the eggs that had landed unbroken on the stage, took it home, and drew Muhammad on it. In 2012, he spoke at a conference in New York I co-organized with Pamela Geller in defense of the freedom of speech, brushing aside those who charged him with “Islamophobia” for doing so.

Asked in 2012 if he was sorry he had drawn Muhammad, Vilks responded: “No, I have no regrets. One shouldn’t think like that. As an artist one must accept the consequences of one’s actions. History is full of artists whose fate was far worse than mine.”

Yes, that is true, although it may be that those who have desired Vilks’ death for so long have now succeeded in murdering him. Whatever the circumstances of his death may be, however, his life stands as an example of a man who demonstrated courage in an age of near-universal cowardice, and who stood up for the principles upon which Western societies are based at a time when the authorities charged with protecting those societies were busy abandoning those principles. For that, all free people owe Lars Vilks a debt of gratitude. May we all find in him a model for emulation.