Lars Vilks Muhammad drawings controversy

Image by Lars Vilks published in Nerikes Allehanda adjacent to the editorial

The Lars Vilks Muhammad drawings controversy began in July 2007 with a series of drawings by Swedish artist Lars Vilks that depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a roundabout dog (a form of street installation in Sweden). Several art galleries in Sweden declined to show the drawings, citing security concerns and fear of violence. The controversy gained international attention after the Örebro-based regional newspaper Nerikes Allehanda published one of the drawings on 18 August as part of an editorial on self-censorship and freedom of religion.[1]

While several other leading Swedish newspapers had published the drawings already, this particular publication led to protests from Muslims in Sweden as well as official condemnations from several foreign governments including Iran,[2] Pakistan,[3] Afghanistan,[4] Egypt,[5] and Jordan,[6] as well as by the inter-governmental Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).[7] The controversy occurred about a year and a half after the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy in Denmark in early 2006.

Background

On 11 June 2007, Vilks was invited to participate in an art exhibition on the theme "The Dog in Art" (Swedish: Hunden i konsten) that was to be held in the small town of Tällerud in Värmland. Vilks submitted three pen and ink drawings on A4 paper depicting Muhammad as a roundabout dog. At this time, Vilks was already participating with drawings of Muhammad in another exhibition in Vestfossen, Norway, on the theme "Oh, My God". Vilks, who is a known proponent of institutional art, has stated that his original intention with the drawings was to "examine the political correctness within the boundaries of the art community".[8] According to Vilks, the art and culture communities in Sweden repeatedly criticize the United States and Israel, whereas Muslim values are rarely even questioned.[9]

On 20 July, the day before the opening of the exhibition in Tällerud, the organizers decided to withdraw Vilks's drawings from the exhibition due to security concerns and fear of violence from Islamic extremists (see Islam and blasphemy and Islam and animals). Märta Wennerström, the exhibition's organizer, said that at first she "didn't realize the gravity of the situation" and that she made the decision to remove the drawings after consulting Swedish government agencies and private persons.[10][11]

Following the first refusal to publish the drawings, Vilks submitted his drawings to the Gerlesborg School of Fine Art in Bohuslän (where he is a frequent lecturer) for a special teachers' exhibition that was going to be opened on 18 August. On 13 August, however, the school announced that they also had decided to reject the drawings due to security concerns.[12] This second rejection started an intense debate in the Swedish media about self-censorship and freedom of expression.

On 18 August, the Örebro-based regional newspaper Nerikes Allehanda published one of Vilks's drawings in an editorial on freedom of expression. The editorial defended "Muslims' right to freedom of religion" but also said it must be permitted to "ridicule Islam's most foremost symbols — just like all other religions' symbols."[1] On the same day, the drawings were also published in several other Swedish newspapers including Aftonbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Expressen and Upsala Nya Tidning.