A cartoonist of Estonian descent targeted by Islamic extremists (2)
Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks who was targeted in a terrorist attack while giving a talk at the Krudttønden cultural centre in Copenhagen in February 14, is a son of an Estonian refugee. Vilks survived in the Copenhagen shootings, in which three people died, and said in an interview with Eesti Päevaleht that radical Islam is a major problem.
Lars Vilks first garnered fame and notoriety for his 2007 drawings of prophet Muhammad, which has resulted in at least two failed attempts by Islamic extremists to murder him.
The plots to kill Vilks started in 2009 and in 2010, the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda published a hit list which included Vilks. While giving a talk at an event called "Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression" at the Krudttønden cafe in Copenhagen, Denmark on February 14, a gunman with an automatic gun attacked the cafe. The terrorist attack which subsequently became known as “Copenhagen shootings”, left one civilian dead and two police officers wounded, but Vilks escaped unharmed. After the attack, Vilks went into hiding, but Estonian daily Eesti Päevaleht managed to establish a contact with him, after finding out about Vilks's Estonian roots.
Vilks's dad escaped from Estonia to Sweden in 1944, just before the Soviet troops invaded the country. In an interview with the daily, he said that it is very important to maintain the freedom of expression and out of all religions, it is only Islam that has an issue with criticism, and it is also the only one which is extremely violent.
The paper asked whether Vilks would want to return to a normal life and whether he regrets his 2007 drawings that depicted prophet Mohamed as a dog, but Vilks emphasised that he is an artist and he has a freedom to express himself through his works.
“We may speculate what might have been and what not, but at the end of the day, I'm an artist. It is my job to express myself via my works, according to my principles. It was extraordinary the way the events escalated – in normal circumstances, drawing a prophet should not become such a big deal,” Vilks said.
“The current situation where the freedom of expression is under attack, is catastrophic in a sense. Criticizing religious symbols should not result in violent attacks,” he added.
Vilks emphasized that in a democratic society, the freedom of expression to criticize religious and political institutions must be maintained.
“Should we not be able to do this, it would be the end of the democracy. The claim that drawing a cartoon of prophet Muhammad equals with insulting the entire Muslim community, is absurd. By the same absurd token, one could say that drawing a cartoon of Mao Zedong insults the entire Chinese nation, for example,” he said.
Vilks said that the society should not fear the Islamic radicals. “No, we should not be afraid of the radicals, because otherwise we surrender to censorship. It could be compared to Estonia under the Soviet occupation when people with dissenting views could be persecuted and imprisoned. The society has come a long way to achieve the freedom of expression and we have to protect it. Because otherwise the democracy will be turned into self-censorship which will also change the essence of freedom of expression.”
According to Vilks, the best solution to fight Islamic radicals is to show unity with those who have dared to publish cartoons depicting Islam and prophet Mohamed, such as the French publication Charlie Hebdo, for example.
“We should publish these cartoons as widely as possible, because it would not be possible to single someone out by terrorists anymore. Terrorists aim to isolate and draw attention to single instance, in order to marginalize the victims and warn others. But if there are as many publications as possible to stand up for the freedom of expression, the terrorists will find it hard to take a violent path. Charlie Hebdo was a good target for terrorists because they were isolated, a lone voice. But if more publications were doing the same, these cartoons would not be an exception anymore,” Vilks said.
Vilks also claimed that there are no violent issues with any other religion, par Islam.
“There is only one problem and it is with Islam. It is a problem that they attempt to kill people who do something that they don't like. The Islamic violence is clearly a problem. By comparison, when you criticize Christianity, their followers may be angry and upset, but no one will come to kill you for this."