A Likeness of Mohammed

Get this. Perennial provocateur artist Lars Vilks lectures about free speech at the University of Uppsala just an hour’s ride from my home — and is attacked by audience members chanting about Islam!

It’s time for a re-run of my own likeness of Mohammed from February ’06.

i-9f608c311c8d001c5af5ceb4f8bad0f8-mohammed.gifThis is a picture I just drew of a guy named Mohammed. Millions of Mohammeds have lived and still live on Earth. In order not to get harassed by religious bigots, I’m not telling you which one of them I have made a likeness of. (Historically, a lot of artists greater even than me have had no such qualms.)

But I’d like to offer the opinion that if your religious beliefs inspire you to burn and vandalise things other people hold dear, such as books or embassies, then this suggests that you are a bigoted moron and need to get a grip. [And likewise if you feel compelled to threaten university lecturers with violence.]

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25 thoughts on “A Likeness of Mohammed

  1. Sorry, but your drawing is suggestive, instead, of Jesus (or a Catholic priest?) saying “let the little children come to me…” As for the outrage over Vilk’s drawing, it seems to me that his depiction of Mohammed as a roundabout dog should have caused less offense than a depiction of him as a mangy cur, as it was described elsewhere. But I guess even a depiction of him as a businessman might be offensive given that any sort of depiction of him is apparently forbidden. It seems rather ironic that depictions of a man that really existed is forbidden, while depictions of another (Jesus) who probably never existed are not.


  2. I’m still surprised that Comedy Central, a cable outlet in the U.S. stopped what is undoubtedly their most offensive show, from depicting Mohommed. They cited safety reasons. I just thought that nothing like that would happen in the U.S. in such a large outlet.


  3. It seems as if Vilks and this moslem minority have entered into a unfruitful symbiosis. Just looking at the auditorium in the clip, there seems to be more islamic iconoclasts present than there are art historians. Both Vilks and these offenders have got stuck in a rut of seeking martyrdom. Where would Vilks be without these scandals and protests, since many would regard your Mohammed picture, Martin, as being of greater artistic merit than his? And how could the protesters possibly get an outlet for their fervency without people like Vilks?


  4. Try as I may, I simply cannot think of ANY words or pictures that would make me behave in such a way. Yet, I apparently share most of my genes with these misguided rioters. Could I ever be brainwashed as they apparently have been, I wonder?


  5. @7 Mattias: That is a study in blaming the victim. “If the art wasn’t so provocative I wouldn’t have headbutted him!” “If her skirt wasn’t so short I wouldn’t have raped her!” Sickening.


  6. It seems as if Vilks and this moslem minority have entered into a unfruitful symbiosis.

    I don’t suppose having Swedish paternal grandparents gives me the ability to think like a Swede, but I would hope that Vilks’ message is that it is perfectly okay for you to practice your religion in Sweden, but you cannot impose your religion on others, and if that is what you want to do, then you should move to a place where there is no chance you will be offended by people who aren’t adherents of your religion. Swedish freedoms in the form of speech, women’s rights, and the like need to be and will be given precedence over sectarian beliefs of any particular kind.


  7. Ewan: My sincere apologies for having sickened you. Fortunately, however, your condition stems from a misinterpretation of my message. The post does not state that the ‘victim’ has himself to blame for what has happened. It states that he relies actively on the reactions from the rioters for his career as an artist. Or do you really mean to say that his never ending interest in Muhammad pictures has some other purpose? That, I fear, would be rather naive. I don’t think anyone would agree with the two statements you bring up, unrelated logically to the point under discussion as they are, but thank you for sharing. Hope that this resolves your nausea. 🙂

    Bob: I think your interpretation of Vilks’ intentions is about right, and your own stance in the matter of freedom of speech corresponds to that of most swedes. ‘Sectarian’, however, is perhaps not the best description of the protests: if only they were! The problem is rather that the violent protesters represent the opposite of secterianism, wishing society as a whole to conform to the culture of just one group within society.


  8. The problem is rather that the violent protesters represent the opposite of secterianism, wishing society as a whole to conform to the culture of just one group within society.

    The irony there, it seems to me, is that Sweden didn’t have separation between church and state until very recently, but in spite of that is a vastly more secular country than the USA, which has had separation between church and state in its constitution from its inception. As you may know, there was a recent ruling by a federal judge in Wisconsin that the USA’s National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. Given that the majority of Americans are adherents of some religion or other, there is a feeling that they should appeal this decision because it is their right to impose their right to have a National Day of Prayer on unbelievers. To them, this is more important than recognizing the fact that our constitution forbids the government from advocating for or against any religious position, which is what a National Day of Prayer clearly is. So while you have a minority in Sweden trying to tear down your constitution, we have a minority in the USA trying to support ours.


  9. Bob: If by ‘secular’ you mean that religion plays a small part in the life of individuals, then this probably applies to Sweden at present. The USA has, however, always been more secularised than Sweden according to another (I believe more common) definition of the term: formal separation between Church and State (religious belief of individuals notwithstanding). The historical reasons for this are obvious and well-known. Sweden has been a monocultural society since its inception as a state, whereas the USA has been multi-cultural and multi-confessional from its inception as a federation. I don’t think that the Vilks protesters is a minority plotting to tear down our constitution, they are just very angry at Vilks. I don’t think Vilks’ concern with the constitution is that sincere either. He is, according to his own statements, ‘experimenting’ with the freedom of speech and the borders of art and politics, respectively. He would probably, along with most artists and art journalists in Sweden, turn against the constitution playing the ‘critical, non-conformist voice against political authority’ card as soon as he himself would come into conflict with the constitution.
    As a whole, constitutions play little role in the minds of people in many European cultures (with significant exceptions, of course) – the UK, for example, has traditionally prided itself for not even having one!


  10. Mattias: Sweden has a few radicals attacking an artist while shouting Allahu Akbar, while we have president who panders to the majority by ending almost every public appearance with “God bless America.” I am left wondering what the latter phrase implies to citizens of other countries, particularly those that are economically disadvantaged. Do Swedish politicians have comparable phrases of a seemingly arrogant nature that they feel compelled to repeat when they speak in public?


  11. No Swedish politician would dare appeal to theological or philosophical matters at all, let alone claim superiority of Sweden on cultural grounds related to religion or philosophy. Swedish arrogance takes other shapes, typically appearing among politicians with claims of being more ‘modern’ (whatever that means) than other states, having achieved better equality than other states, being less corrupt than other states &c. This is equally ethno-centric, but perhaps less offensive to other European countries, than the ‘God bless America’ invocation. My experience from speaking to people in, or from, non-European countries, however, is that this is more offensive than some general national self-congratulation like the one you describe. This may of course also be related to the marginal status of Sweden as compared the the US.


  12. Sorry if I was unclear, Bob – my comment pertained to the importance of constitutions in civic worldview, not to confessional issues in politics. But I think you are right that the situation in the UK and the US probably are rather similar as far as the latter matter is concerned.


  13. @Mattias and Bob Carlson: Your comments on this situation are, in my opinion very good. This might slightly miss the point, but I’m reminded of an old story of a preacher who became fed up with his congregations constant nitpicking and harping at one and another playing “Holier than thou.” So, one Sunday morning he went to the pulpit and opened with, “How the fuck are you?” The congregation was, of course shocked. The church nearly imploded from the collective intake of breath. He then went on to preach a sermon involving the story of the good samaritan. At the end, he said this: “Most of you are more worried that I used the word, ‘fuck’ than there are millions of sick and hungry children in the world.” Of course he had a point, the parable was appropriate and he none the less found himself out of a job. Sometimes shock value is a good thing and it points out a real problem. Other times, shock value is all there is….


  14. Some people in the thread on the same subject at Pharyngula exclaiming that people are ignoring the “European context” of this event, which is that Vilks is a racist and fascist. Maybe you could shed some light on this as a local! Does it appear to you that “the context of these anti-Muslim cartoons from northern Europe is nothing more admirable than anti-Asian racism”? 🙂


  15. The Vilks controversy has inspired Hemant Mehta to start a Draw Me a Muhammad contest in which submissions are to include only stick figures of the sort that began this thread. Some argue that even this will be counterproductive because it will incline moderate Muslims to be more sympathetic with the radicals. Is that a risk worth taking in order to defend the secular values of any society?


  16. how could the protesters possibly get an outlet for their fervency without people like Vilks?

    They have no right to any such outlet.

    the “European context” of this event, which is that Vilks is a racist and fascist

    Not true. Orthodox Muslims (and a few Jews) call Vilks a racist and fascist, when in fact he is only making fun of their religious imagery. Vilks’s most (in)famous piece of work is a huge driftwood sculpture built on the seashore without a permit, and part of the “work” is all the bureaucratic paperwork the project has produced. He is primarily an artistic provocateur aiming to épater la bourgeoisie. A little childish in my opinion, but then that’s what art has been about for decades. And I support childish free speech too.


  17. Perhaps it ought to be mentioned that, at least as far as I’m aware, Vilks was attacked at this event because he tried to show SOMEONE ELSE’S work. A film, more specifically. So it wasn’t even about the Muhammad dogs.


  18. Melliferax: more importantly, the film he showed was made under circumstances where it could not have been shown publicly (by an Iranian artist) in some other countries. This makes it perhaps more justified than provocation as an end in itself, even if it doesn’t affect Vilk’s right to show it (which would have been the same regardless of the status of the work and which is not seriously disputed by anyone in Sweden – the iconoclastic islamists do not publish opinion pieces, they shout and fight at these events).

    Martin: “they have no right for such an outlet”. I guess that you mean that this type of outlet is intolerable, in which case we agree. Or do you mean that they have no right to an outlet of their fervency?

    Another thing: many law scholars have pointed out that situations like these are not concerned with the freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is the matter of enabling individuals to speak out against government. The same holds true for freedom of religion. Thus, Vilks can not be accused for limiting the Swedish freedom of religion, nor can any of his attackers be accused of limiting the Swedish freedom of speech. I do not know which terminology lawyers would prefer for the situation at hand.


  19. Indeed, in Sweden the Islamists have the right to say what they want about Vilks (limited by hate speech regulations regarding e.g. his ethnic group or sexual orientation), and I support that right. But they have no right to threaten or attack him.

    Freedom of speech is the matter of enabling individuals to speak out against government.

    That may be the legal definition of the term, but it is certainly not the vernacular one.


  20. Martin: “That may be the legal definition of the term, but it is certainly not the vernacular one.”

    Exactly, and this is the problem. The popular debate gives the impression of a _right_ being at stake here, which is of course not the case.

    / Mattias


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