Swedish Mohammed-as-dog Sketches Start Another Ridiculous Backlash

Cartoon of Mohammed as a dogTwo years after a Danish newspaper provoked manufactured outrage in the Islamic world by printing a series of cartoons lampooning Islam's founder, a Swedish newspaper may have done the same with a series of sketches:

Marking the beginning of yet another dispute over free speech and religious sensitivity, the government of Pakistan has joined Iran in protesting the publication in a Swedish newspaper of a sketch featuring the head of Mohammed on the body of a dog.

"Pakistan condemns, in the strongest terms, the publication of an offensive and blasphemous sketch of the Holy Prophet in the Swedish newspaper," the foreign ministry in Islamabad said in a statement Thursday.

A Swedish diplomat was summoned to the ministry and "was told that the publication of the sketch had caused grave affront to the religious sentiments of Muslims," it said.

"Regrettably, the tendency among some Europeans to mix the freedom of expression with an outright and deliberate insult to 1.3 billion Muslims in the world is on the rise," the statement said.

A Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman told Sweden's English-language The Local that the diplomat had apologized for any hurt feelings the publication may have caused.

The government in Stockholm has distanced itself from the decision by a regional newspaper, Nerikes Allehanda, to publish the picture on August 18. The sketch, by artist Lars Vilks, was used to illustrate an editorial on freedom of expression.

The paper noted that three Swedish art exhibitions had turned down three Vilks sketches depicting a bearded, turbaned man as a dog, apparently because of security concerns.

In defense of his paper, Nerikes Allehanda editorialis Lars Ströman wrote an excellent editorial defending free speech, especially the freedom to parody:

A liberal society must be able to do two things at the same time. On the one hand, it must be able to defend Muslims’ right to freedom of religion and their right to build mosques. However, on the other hand, it is also permissible to ridicule Islam’s most foremost symbols – just like all other religions’ symbols. There is no opposition between these two goals. In fact, it is even the case that they presuppose each other.Therefore it is quite logical that the Muslim newspaper Minaret, together with the association Secular Muslims in Sweden, is planning an exhibition displaying Lars Vilks’s drawings.

Religion is a more sensitive area than politics. Religious belief is more personal and therefore if a religious symbol is violated or ridiculed, this can be felt to be a personal insult. This does not only apply to Muslims.
In 1979, the Monty Python team made the film “Life of Brian.” It is not about Jesus but about Brian, a young man who was born and who lived contemporarily with the founder of Christianity. “Life of Brian” was forbidden in Norway under the law forbidding blaspheme. In the USA, there were voices calling for the film to be forbidden. John Cleese pointed out that God no doubt can take care of himself. I am a practicing Christian myself and I think “Life of Brian” is a very funny film. [...]

The right to freedom of religion and the right to blaspheme religions go together. They presuppose one another.

What happens if a fundamentalist Muslim wants to express his faith through pictorial art? Quite clearly, it will be easy to persuade art galleries that the pictures are unsuitable, that they may lead to conflict. So the restriction of Lars Vilks’s possibilities to express himself may also negatively affect Muslims’ right to express themselves.

For another of the "evil" images, see this Little Green Footballs post.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013