10-foot pole: Lars Vilks and extremism

“10-Foot Pole” articles are pieces that deal with issues I consider controversial or too sensitive to bring up in day-to-day discourse. Issues I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot-pole. They will be full of opinion, but I will always attempt to open a dialogue. Let’s talk about the issues that are important instead of pretending they don’t affect us.

If anyone knows me they know I can run my mouth about many a topic. Some of those topics I might understand and some I really don’t know anything about but I run my mouth none the less. What drives me is the passion of the discussion, the weight of the words and the amount you can grow in a boisterous exchange. There is, however, one thing I rarely touch on even when on the topic of religion (which happens quite a bit). That thing is Islamic extremism.

A video posted to YouTube May 11th, 2010 shows Lars Vilks being attacked by Muslim protestors. Lars Vilks is a Swedish artist who in 2007 drew a series of pieces depicting the prophet Muhammed as a “roundabout” dog. Islam strictly forbids visual depictions of the prophet Muhammed so for Vilks to not only depict Muhammed, but to do it in this way, enraged the Islamic community. He received death threats, national condemnations and a group in Iraq set a $150,000 bounty on his head. The attack on him during a lecture on May 11th was the first time any attempts at physical violence succeeded. Fortunately Lars was escorted away with no serious injuries.

He was giving a lecture on free expression for f*** sakes!

The big story isn’t the assault itself, however. The big issue is the state of free speech in the Western world. While I don’t think that Vilks was tasteful or compassionate in his depiction of the prophet Muhammed, the fact remains that in a free democratic nation like Sweden he has the right to draw what he drew. Is there anything objectively wrong with drawing the prophet outside of Islam? I will never be the person to say to Muslims or anyone for that matter, “You are not allowed to be offended by “X.” I have no right to tell people how to feel (although I fully understand I have before), but I have the right to say what I want without fear of physical reprisal. As long as what I want to say doesn’t wander into hate speech (which I have a problem condemning, but that is a topic for another day) or threats of violence/death, my rights are protected.  Not having a sense of safety just because you offended someone’s belief system doesn’t just not make sense, it angers me. Sorry to sound nationalist or right-wing but we have to be adamant about protecting our free speech, and we can’t take it for granted.

The reason that this straw broke my back is because as I’m sure you’ve heard, the creators of South Park were threatened with death recently because of a NON-depiction of Muhammed. The episode centred around Tom Cruise wanting to get revenge on the city of South Park and never be made fun of again. Tom Cruise realizes that the ONLY public figure (fictional or real) that can’t be made fun of or even visually depicted is Muhammed. The episode doesn’t even show Muhammed. Muhammed is never even heard from, aside from a few muffled mumbles that could be attributed to any character. Trey Parker and Matt Stone were attempting to comment on the fact that they couldn’t show Muhammed because of the climate, that we have all allowed to form, restricts our freedom of speech. They were not simply using Muhammed to say, “F*** you Islam!”  It had a more subtle point to make. The point being that freedom of speech is something that is protected in the west and the fact that they depicted “Muhammed” the way they did was simply because they were showing how absurd it is that every other character, figure or person can be depicted and satirized except one. How is it sane to react with threats of death over a cartoon that DIDN’T depict the prophet? If Muhammed was depicted and as a Muslim you didn’t see it, would it effect you? Do these Muslim extremists watch South Park, but only choose to take issue with the Muhammed episodes? Where is the common sense, civility or peace that is such a part of Islam? Again, I don’t think Muslims shouldn’t be offended, quite the opposite. If I were a Muslim I would be offended I’m sure, as depicting Muhammed is a serious transgression. However, I do think and will say that radicals have no right what-so-ever to threaten or physically assault someone for depicting such things. It’s a really big deal that the actions of the vocal few are encroaching on our free speech. In a country where the law states that depicting the prophet is punishible by death, so be it, be scared. But to live in fear in a free society because you are afraid of violent retribution for doing NOTHING WRONG according to that society’s laws, is heinous.

I will fight for your right to say these things, but it's a two-way street my ignorant friend.

Of course, I am not a Muslim. I don’t believe in Allah and do not follow the Qur’an. But that doesn’t exclude me from understanding the feeling of being offended. It seems to me that the most radical protestors out there feel as if their offense and belief structure supersedes all else. The blatant hypocrisy and vile nature of the rhetoric coming from the extremes of the Muslim community is very unsettling. It is not okay that people must live in fear if they choose to express themselves in a certain way. It is not okay that Theo Van Gogh was stabbed and had his throat cut because he drew a cartoon. It is not okay that Lars Vilks was physically assaulted while lecturing by protestors, nay, attackers. It is not okay that extremists, who are protected by free speech laws in the west, use that freedom to threaten death and condemn the very place they live for allowing free speech. Can you begin to imagine the reverse of the situation? Going into a Muslim nation and slandering the government, its people and religion? The problem is that we all see the hypocrisy in this. We all understand the problem. But we don’t talk about it. I unfortunately don’t hear from the moderates too often. The radicals are too loud, and obnoxious. Moreover it seems that the moderate Muslim community has been rather quiet regarding the current climate of anti-freespeech fervour. Why is it so hard to talk about these things? Why are the only voices being heard in a debate that rages on about the value of free speech in a free society, the radical and hate-filled voices of totally ignorant people?

I don't agree with you, but I promise I won't try to kill you.

While this article was spurred on by my disgust over what happened to Lars Vilks, the problem is not just in the realm of Islamic extremists. Extremism runs far, wide and deep in this world. The extreme right in the states, the nationalists in Japan and throughout Europe, the ignorance still prevalent in certain parts of South Africa and countless other places throughout the world carry the same weight of ignorance. We need to talk about these things that happen. It doesn’t matter that it’s not on our front doorstep, or down the block. What matters is that these events (the assassination of Theo Van Gogh, the South Park backlash, the assault of Lars Vilks or Tea Partiers hurling racial epithets and invoking the holocaust) set precedents. The more that extremists, whatever group they are from, find validation and a lack of social consequences from such behaviour, the more of it we will see. The way the public acts is the exact way that the non-protestors/attackers in the audience with Lars Vilks acted as the extremists were attempting to assault Vilks. We sit back, take pictures and talk about it over coffee when we come across an article in the paper. I’m so sick of the issue being skirted and people shying away because it’s gauche to talk about these kinds of things. I’m sick of feeling like I’m the bad guy if I make my opinion heard on issues like this. I’m most sick of having this conversation and people sweeping away the whole dialogue with, “well, what can you do?” Let’s lift that taboo and protect free speech the only true way we know how, really talking.

Addition: I am truly sorry if I come across as anti-Muslim, because I am not. I am disgusted by the extremes in Islam as much as I am disgusted with the extremes anywhere. I hate to pick on Islam, it’s just in light of recent events I can’t keep my mouth shut any longer. Please comment, and discuss. I want to hear from all sides. Even the extremists! That’s what free speech is all about.

GRG

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~ by humanmoves on May 12, 2010.

11 Responses to “10-foot pole: Lars Vilks and extremism”

  1. well, in islam, everthing is 1 way. u will be surprised what islam says about christianity. not that i care about christinity, its e whole hypocrisy with islam.

    • This is true. The only problem is that everything being one way is mostly what you hear from the extreme. I want to hear what moderates think, and that’s the drive behind my whole argument. Maybe things aren’t all just one way in Islam. unfortunately for Islam that’s not how it seems though.

  2. We have to perpetuate the cycle. Every time extremist islam responds to cartoons of their favorite child molester, a new cartoon gets published. Over time that should amount to a rather significant corpus of mohammed cartoons.

    Muslims don’t need to be offended less, they need to be offended more. It has to happen so much that they get innoculated.

    They cannot demand freedom of speech for themselves and deny it to others. We just cannot let that happen.

    Let us start a new movement where every contributing member displays the banner of the movement and the banner contains that specific cartoon as the logo.

    Not less, more.

    • Hmm, you raise an interesting point/strategy. However, I don’t know if simply bombarding the discourse with offense is a great approach. Hell, maybe it’d work, but unfortunately I think the radical muslim community would only respond like a caged animal. It wouldn’t learn because we wouldn’t be giving any reason for the community to learn from us. The radicals would just inflate in numbers and rage. Maybe I’m wrong though, who knows at this point. Until we actually discuss these things nothing is solved.

  3. Dillon, thank you for sending me this article and asking for m opinion. I cant say that i agree with you 100%, however, i do agree that their is an ironic difference between exercising free speech, and attempting to silence free speech. If its true that it is against religion to “mock” or depict the Mohammed as anything other than The Prophet, then according to that religion, the devout followers of that religion, or “extremists”, will carry out their own brand of justice. I understand Sweden is a free state, but your rights don’t protect you all the time, even though they should. They may be instituted to protect before or after an act of violence, but human emotion and conviction are much stronger than the law, always! But…..i dont have any problems with individuals making a point, and too many times, so many things are taken out of context that it seems so difficult to have an opinion about anything. “That being said (haha), it is the responsibility of anyone, choosing to represent certain characters, people, political figures, etc., to know what kind of message that is possibly being sent. If anyone used any derogatory term, even though its intent was not too offend anyone, but knew it would offend anyone, it is their responsibility to do whatever possible to diffuse that situation. I believe people can use things and immediately suggest that it was not meant to be offensive, but i think most people in those positions know what they are dealing with, and its either a ‘just dont care’ thing, or ignoring the potential outrage that may come forth. But dealing with such situations may set up a much needed dialogue to talk and discuss ideas, opinions, myths, and the like that may lead us to think we’ve been rather childish in being offended by many of these things at all. Yes…let’s talk about shit, let’s not bury our opinions in our subconscious and wait for inebriation to set them free. Let’s scream, let’s yell, let’s get so fucking mad about our debate that we literally want to slit each other’s throats. It is only at that point, that we will finally breakthrough. Thats my opinion homie!!!

    • First I’ll adress your comment about your rights protecting you all the time. I understand your point that the law can only go so far, and if someone wants to take a shot at you they will regardless. But isn’t there something to be said for attempting to create a world where it’s more heinous to inflict violence on someone than it is to express an opinion? Just because you can’t personally be protected all the time doesn’t mean that you have any less of a right to be (I know this isn’t exactly what you were saying, but I’m just trying to formulate my idea a little bit). It seems that within the muslim community this behaviour isn’t repremanded, discussed or put into context. It is a huge game of “us versus them” and until the radicals are out-shouted by the moderates who want to have a meaningful discussion about what is going on within their own community, I feel the need to rail against behaviour that I see as abhorent. I understand that muslims see depicting Muhammed as abhorent, but as I said before, if you live in a free society that is the risk you take. You take the risk of being offended, you take the risk of living and working beside people that disgust you, or you believe should rot in hell. That’s what a free society is. It seems that these hardliners haven’t even begun to attempt to grasp this fact. If it comes down to it, I’m willing to defend my social freedoms before I defend someone’s feelings.

      I agree with your point on responsibility completely. I don’t believe Lars Vilks to be innocent of offending anyone. I don’t even think I would like him considering his attitude in dealing with the muslim community. He transgressed an entire community and in said community or perhaps another country, he is guilty. He is NOT guilty of ANYTHING in the free society in which he lives. While it may be his responsibility to diffuse the situation by explaining himself (which in one way or another he does by talking about free expression and the like) he does not have the responsibility of changing the minds or soothing the rage of the muslim community. He should explain, not apologize. It’s very frustrating to me that I see these people who take so much issue with freedom while taking advantage of a free society. Boggles the mind.

      Thanks for your opinion man! I really appreciate the input, and the dicsussion. keep it coming! I’ll be bringing more to the table to discuss soon enough!

  4. I recntly saw a Muslim appear on local Canadian TV saying..:If you slander Islam or Muhamed, It is then okay for me to TERRORIZE you. This is the hammer on fly approach, If I kiss you it may not mean I want to fuck you.

    • Mental huh? What about the reverse? If you slander our country and the fact that women have more rights than you think they should have, is it okay for someone to terrorize you? Of course not. The terror goes one way. We allow these nutjobs to talk so much shit, but no one speaks up about it. All they say is, “man, that crazy radical. what an idiot.” Challenge these people! Not with violence, but with common sense, reasoning and a little bit of love…yeah i said it lol.

  5. Great article, Dillon. I would just like to throw a little extra food for thought.

    In my home town of Cincinnati, there used to be a yearly “White Supremacy Rally” on fountain square (which is pretty much the center of our downtown business district). I am not positive on all of the details of what is said and done at these “Rallies”, but I do know they; burn a cross, speak on megaphones about their beliefs, and use racial and religious slurs as well as derogatory slanders. Needless to say, these “Rallies” usually lead to violence and arrests. Case in point, just three weeks ago one of these “Rallies” was held in L.A. and it became a little violent.

    I believe in freedom of speech, but there is a thin line between voicing ones opinion and blasphemy/hate crime. When your topic artist, “Lars Vilk” draws a portrait of, Muhammad on an animals body, with a sign saying, “Muslim means Human and Animal Rights”, and makes a cartoon making fun of Muhammad by going into a gay bar. I can see where some Muslims think he has crossed the line.

    I am a firm believer in freedom of speech, and I don’t agree with violence. But how many times does another man have to make fun of your “God” the one you live your life for before you stand up for yourself? In this instance they took a violent action. These guys are called radicals for a reason. Dillon, since you are not religious, how many times does it take for someone to call you a “nigger” before you punch him in the face. Or if they were speaking to your mother in this way? For some it is once, for others it is infinite, but you don’t have to be a black panther to go up and hit someone for calling you a nigger.

    I am firm believer in freedom of speech, and in no way do I think it is right what they are doing, but I also do like to see a couple of those white supremacists get punched in the face, or hit by a stray bottle from the crowd. So maybe if I was raised a religious radical I would like to see the same thing happen to artists slandering my God..

    I agree with you a lot and think your article is a very important topic that needs to be addressed. I am just stirring the pot a little..

    • I get you. I totally understand where you’re coming from, but I’m not that person. You might be “barking up the wrong tree.” When people speak ignorant shit to me (nigger, darkie, shit about my mom) it’s like water off a ducks back. It stings, but the understanding that the other person is more ignorant than I is the only satisfaction I need from the situation. I laugh or roll my eyes once that language comes into play. Why should I care? It says so much more about the other person than it says about me.

      What I don’t understand is why people who believe in an all powerful being believe he needs some sort of mortal protection against other humans. If you believe in your god, go believe in him. Why does it matter one iota that someone else doesn’t believe in or talks shit about your god or religion. Honestly, offending someone’s god in my opinion (this is going to sound insensitive) is like offending someone’s favourite pop star or someone they really look up to. To some people out there, Justin Timberlake is a god, or Ghandi, or MLK jr. Go ahead, draw them in drag, slander their name, burn them in effigy. I don’t care what you do because my opinion of my idol/god is inpenetrable. If radical muslims are so secure in their belief that they are willing to kill for it, why the fuck do they care AT ALL what others say? It’s too counterintuitive to be valid in my opinion.

      “Hey you slandered Allah! You should pay with your life.”
      “ok…do you still love him, and believe in him?”
      “Of course!”
      “So nothing I have said has changed your opinion of Allah, the Qur’an or Muhammed?”
      “Of course not!”
      “…then why do you care?”

      In a nutshell that’s how I see it. I think I repeated myself a bunch of times, sorry for that. Thanks for the input homie. I appreciate you takin the time to read my article and give me some feedback and add to the discussion. Hit me back with any more thoughts u have. ttys holmes.

  6. Dillon, thanks for sending me the link to this article. I really enjoyed it, and I think you make some really good points.

    You kind of find yourself getting into a circle of “It’s OK to say this even though I don’t agree with you, but I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong because you’re entitled to your opinion”.

    The thing is, sometimes people have an opinion that is wrong. This is most common among the people that this article focuses on, religious fundamentalists.

    I’m not going to hijack your thread here, but let me just say that this was a very well-written piece, and I look forward to discussing this with you further later.

    -B.

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