Here in Sweden, a lot has been written and said about the artist Lars Vilks this very last week. With his caricature, he almost stirred the whole world in 2007. The debate then was very much about how insulted the Muslims felt. This time, the international police have arrested seven persons in Ireland and one woman in the USA (Jihad-Jane) for planning the assassination of Vilks.
The debate here immediately revived and Vilks has participated in lots of radio and television debates. At first, the debate immediately relapsed to the same level as last time, i.e. about the insult of the caricature itself. Nalin Pekgul, a Muslim party member of the Social Democrats, as well chairwoman of the Social Democrats’ women’s federation, a prospective minister in a future socialist government, has, loud-voiced and on the verge of tears, attacked Vilks in all their debates (here is one) saying that he did the worst thing possible when he portrayed Mohammed as a dog, because “dogs are impure”. She has also drawn the conclusion, based on this incident, that freedom of speech should not be absolute. “Just because something is legal, is not necessarily advisable”, she says after about 10 minutes in this programme)
In another TV-program, Debatt (“Debate”), the Muslim Mohannad Yousif participates and alleges that he and 1,5 billion Muslims have been offended. He continues to state that this offence is worse than making fun of the Holocaust. A number of publicists also take part and one of them actually questions the fact that Mohannad Yousif sees himself as a spokesman for 1,5 million Muslims. Only Vilks contradicts Yousif for his statement by saying that there actually is a distinction between fiction and facts, and that religions at bottom are fictitious but that the Holocaust is a fact, so that there is no relevance in Yousif’s description.
Why did Vilks do this caricature? He notices that there is a restriction in society as regards freedom of expression within art. It is possible to criticize and taunt all the religions but for Islam. He sees this as a problem that Muslims are treated like children in society. He presumes that the goal is that they must become grown-up members of society and learn to bear other opinions that their own without reacting like insulted children. Here is an English interview with Vilks where he explains his function as a catalyst without taking any political standpoint, even though he admits that what he has done is most politically incorrect.
Now the discussion has more and more changed direction into dealing with freedom of speech. In 2007, the publicists were more inclined to compromise with our freedom of speech. This time, it is possible to discern a less tactful attitude. There are less “buts” this time than last time (“We must of course have freedom of speech, but ….” a standpoint that Pekgul adheres to, though).
In yet another debate program, Agenda, sent 14 March, Jan Guillou was one of the invited debaters. Guillou is, nota bene, a former KGB-agent. Guillou doesn’t seem to understand, or support, what this process with the Mohammed caricature is about: to teach people coming from other cultures that we in the west have our freedom of speech and that it means that what you don’t like yourself is permissible. And that you have to learn to live with people who have other views without having to threaten them or try to murder them.
Kurt Westergaard (the Danish cartoonist) and Lars Vilks do what politicians and journalists don’t do: they teach western culture and civilization to new minorities. Satire becomes an enormous explosive force when other ways of communication are closed because of taboos, fear and cultural clashes. That is when satire opens up the eyes of those who try to shut them, breaks through the sound barrier of those who refuse to listen.
There is a lack of Muslims today that openly defy the Islamic agenda. But there are a few. Mohamed Sifaouis is such an uncommon person. When watching this film (in French with Swedish text, though) it is not difficult to understand why.