The paragraphs below are reprints of an older article I have written in November 2008 and filed from Kalmar, Sweden when a group of Middle Eastern journalists met with Ulf Johansson, the editor of a newspaper in Sweden which printed a drawing by Lars Vilks depicting the prophet Mohammed as a roundabout dog.
I am reprinting these fragments of the article following what is currently going on in the world, whereby a Jewish filmmaker has done a very deeply insulting movie called “Innocence of Muslims” (His name is Sam Bacile*). The aim of this post is not to endorse Bacile, nor to embrace the riots (or the death of the American ambassador in Lybia), it is just a way to put this under some rational light in an experience which has happened before and lessons could be taken from the process:
In August 19, 2007, the Nerikes Allehanda newspaper printed a drawing by Swedish artist Lars Vilks depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a roundabout dog. According to editor-in-chief Ulf Johansson, the publishing of the image was done by the newspaper in order to protest the refusal of several Swedish art galleries to show a series of Mohammed paintings by Vilks.
In his editorial in the same newspaper, editorial-writer Lars Stroman writes: “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.”
Stroman continues: “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’ possibilities to express himself may also negatively affect Muslims’ right to express themselves.”
[…] But Johansson remains adamant about his decision, and says: “It is worse for Muslims not to print this picture because it means we are treating them differently than the rest of the population whereas they should be equal. We all live under the same rules and values.” He even confesses “I don’t even like the picture.”
[…] “I do not care if the president of Iran is upset. He denied the existence of Iranian homosexuals, which means that anywhere between 5 and 10% of the population did not exist for him. I am here to acknowledge the existence of everyone. Even those - especially those - who disagree with me.” “People in other countries do not know what happened; they only know that something happened. So their reaction is not justified because they do not know the context.”
[…] Ulf Johansson is fighting the fight on behalf of all people, be they his immediate readers of those of who never heard of his newspaper, he concludes by referring to what Evelyn Beatrice Hall said to summarize French philosopher Voltaire's ideas: "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
*Update: It appaears that Sam Bacile is a pseudonym for a Christian Coptic man by the name of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, which only makes this case even more murky than it originally is.