Swedish Artist's Mohammed Sketch Prompts Another Muslim Uproar

Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Friday, August 31, 2007

Swedish Artist's Mohammed Sketch Prompts Another Muslim Uproar

(CNSNews.com) - 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.

A few months after a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in September 2005 published a dozen caricatures of Mohammed, simmering anger among Muslims erupted.

The cartoons, later reproduced in other European newspapers, triggered death threats, diplomatic strains, a Mideast boycott of Danish products, and protests -- some of them deadly -- in a number of Islamic countries.

The ripple effects of the episode are still being felt, with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a 57-member bloc of Islamic states, working to have international institutions outlaw the "defamation of prophets" and combat "Islamophobia."

Pakistan's foreign ministry said Islamabad would consult with the OIC and "continue to work with like-minded countries in the U.N. to find ways of addressing the recurring issue of defamation of Islam and its sacred personalities."

Earlier this week the Iranian government also summoned a Swedish diplomat for a dressing-down, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at a press conference during which he raged about Jews, accused "Zionists" of being responsible for the sketch.

(Ironically, Vilks has not restricted his provocative work to Islam. His website also features a sketch of a hooked-nosed pig, described as a "modern Jew sow." A Swedish group of secular Muslims had offered to exhibit the artist's Mohammed sketches, but then withdrew the offer, citing the anti-Semitic cartoon.)

'Right to blaspheme'

Tensions between Muslims and Christians and secularists in a number of European countries have risen significantly in recent years. Growing Muslim communities say they are victims of intolerance and racism, while non-Muslim critics worry about attempts by Muslims -- sometimes supported or facilitated by liberal governing authorities -- to introduce Islamic norms, including aspects of Islamic law.

About four percent of Sweden's population is Muslim, roughly the same proportion as in Denmark.

The Swedish newspaper publishers' association has come out in support of Nerikes Allehanda's decision to publish the Mohammed sketch.

"The strength of freedom of expression lies in the fact that it tolerates -- and protects -- not only comfortable, harmless and uncontroversial opinions, but also those that are tasteless, controversial, upsetting and offensive," the group's deputy chairman said in a statement.

Nerikes Allehanda on Tuesday published an editorial on the subject, arguing that "the right to freedom of religion and the right to blaspheme religions go together."

"A liberal society must be able to do two things at the same time," wrote editorial writer Lars Stroman, "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."

Stroman drew a distinction between his newspaper's decision and the situation that arose last year after Jyllands-Posten published the 12 Mohammed cartoons.

"For a number of years now, xenophobic forces in Danish politics have had too much space to maneuver," he said. "For many Muslims in Denmark, the drawings in Jyllands-Posten were an expression of increased intolerance."

Flemming Rose, the Jyllands-Posten cultural editor who published the cartoons, wrote on his blog that Swedish media have long "avoided this kind of debate." Many Swedes view Danes as xenophobic and racist, he said, and noted that no major Swedish newspaper in 2006 had published the Jyllands-Posten cartoons.

During the earlier dispute, newspapers in a number of European countries, including France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway, reproduced some or all of the Danish cartoons, either to illustrate their reporting on the subject or as a free-speech statement.

See Slso:
Muslim Nations Want 'Islamophobia' on Anti-Racism Meeting's Agenda (Aug. 28, 2007)
Muslim Leaders Want UN to Outlaw 'Defamation' (Feb. 21, 2006)
Growing Islamic Anger Over Mohammed Cartoons (Jan. 3, 2006)

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