No apologies from Sweden in MoDog toon controversy
Swedish Muslims demonstrated on Friday against a small local paper which published a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed.
On August 18 Nerikes Allehanda printed the cartoon by Lars Vilks as part of an editorial piece protesting the lack of art galleries willing to show such work. The image is based on the odd Swedish phenomenon known as “roundabout dogs“.
They do not want the Swedish government to be a friend of other nations. I strongly believe they are behind it (the cartoon). They thrive on conflict and war.
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. In the past also sketches and caricatures of this nature have been published in Europe in the name of the ‘freedom of expression’. Such acts deeply undermine the efforts of those who seek to promote respect and understanding among religions and civilizations.
The statement also claimed that the Swedish Charge d’Affaires “fully shared the views of the Muslim community” – a claim denied by the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
Indeed the Swedish government, media, and the newspaper in question have been very clear that no apology will be forthcoming. On the day of the protest Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt spoke out on the issue:
I think it’s important to say two things. First, we are eager to ensure that Sweden remains a country in which Muslims and Christians, people who believe in God and people who don’t believe in God, can live side by side in a spirit of mutual respect.[...]
We are also eager to stand up for freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the constitution and comes naturally to us, and which ensures that we do not make political decisions about what gets published in the newspapers. I want to make sure we keep things that way.
The editor of Nerikes Allehanda, Ulf Johansson, has steadfastly refused to apologise or promise never to publish a similar image. His editorial writer, Lars Ströman, wrote a robust defence of his boss’s decision:
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.
Unfortunately, this basic message does not seem to be getting through. Today, the leader of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, displayed his total lack of comprehension when he urged the Swedish government to apologise immediately:
The caricatures in question do not bode well for freedom of expression. [...] It has become a habit to insult our sacred values now. It is impossible to tolerate what has been done and what has been done cannot be considered a simple incident. [...]
Those who are responsible cannot hide behind the principle of freedom of press. Those who remain silent in the face of attacks against Islam may not find anyone by their side when it comes to their sacred values.
Now Egypt and Jordan have joined Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan in voicing their protest. The Egyptian ministry said the publication was “irresponsible and offensive” and “not conducive to friendly ties between the Islamic world and the west”. And a Jordanian government spokesman said:
The publication of this cartoon, which seeks to attack the character of the Prophet Muhammad, is unacceptable, rejected and condemned.
Such cartoons do not serve inter-faith dialogue and co-existence, in which Jordan believes.
And, of course, the artist has been getting death threats.
UPDATE: (Sept 4) Turkey’s Felicity Party demonstrated outside the Swedish embassy in Ankara today, demanding “immediate action”.