Dead Man (Still) Drawing


Despite beatings and bombings, artist Lars Vilks presses on

[One of two stories I penned on Lars Vilks for Los Angeles art magazine Artillery in the late 2000s, the Swedish artist who literally risked all by daring to draw Muhammad was killed in a car crash with his state-granted bodyguards on October 3, 2021. Had he been Andres Serrano, he would have died alone.]

By Mark Cromer

Escalating their threats to murder artist Lars Vilks for daring to insult their religion, radical Islamists attacked and beat Vilks when he appeared on campus at Uppsala University in Sweden in early May and, four days later, firebombed his home.

Vilks suffered minor injuries during the assault at the university and was not home when the arsonists struck his house in Nyhamnsläge. Two men were arrested in connection with the firebombing.

In 2007, Vilks became one of several Scandinavian artists that were targeted by terror groups after he depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a dog. The attacks on Vilks follow attempts earlier this year to murder artist Kurt Westergaard, whose illustration of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban triggered spasms of violence throughout the Muslim world.

This spring, American prosecutors issued indictments against Colleen LaRose and seven others for allegedly plotting to murder Vilks. LaRose, a suburban mom from Philadelphia, was infamously dubbed “Jihad Jane” by the media.

While Al-Qaeda and affiliated terror groups have placed a $150,000 bounty on Vilk’s head, the artist, who turned 64 this June, has remained unbowed throughout his ordeal.

“I don’t think it should a problem to insult a religion because it should be possible to insult all religions, and it can be in a democratic way. If you insult one, then you should also insult the other ones,” Vilks told CNN during an interview last year. “If you don’t like it, don’t look at it. And if you look at it, don’t take it too seriously.”

Such calm Western reasoning found no consideration among the rabid Islamists that brazenly vow to murder any who dare offend their sensibilities—let alone oppose their agenda. One of Vilks’ neighbors, a Muslim woman wearing a full black burka, told CNN that she intended to “slaughter [Vilks] like a lamb.”

Though she has been fined for making threats, the woman said Swedish law would not deter her from exhorting the murder of Vilks.

“Call me a terrorist, call me an Islamist, but I have the right to defend my prophet,” she shrieked into the cable network’s camera.

But there are some signs that the campaign of violent intimidation may not be driving artists and libertarians underground and into silence, but finally stirring more of them to action. Days after the attacks against Vilks in May, activists used the global social networking giant Facebook to stage a “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day!”

While the action drew official rebukes from Muslim countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, the point was well made: Instead of stamping out Vilks and his sketches, the radicals have managed to not only spread them, but inspire many more established and aspiring artists around the globe to raise their pens and brushes in defiance.

This article was first published in Artillery magazine.