An Interview With Lars Vilks

Although he would probably not agree with the characterization, the Swedish artist Lars Vilks is a hero of the Counterjihad movement.

Like many other people who have chosen to criticize or mock Islam, Mr. Vilks’ life has been in danger for years. Last month he was the target of a failed assassination attempt in Copenhagen. Throughout the aftermath of this incident, and during all his previous tribulations, the artist has remained steadfast in his defense of free speech as an absolute. For the past eight years he has never retracted or groveled or apologized to Islam. His position in March 2015 remains the same as it was in July 2007.

In the fall of 2007, at the height of the initial controversy over “The Prophet as a Roundabout Dog”, someone asked Mr. Vilks if drawing the cartoon was worth dying for. In reply he said simply, “Yes, it is.”

That’s what makes him a hero.

The following interview with Lars Vilks was aired recently on Danish television. To help add context to Mr. Vilks’ words, please take a look at Modoggie Archives. There was very little MSM news in English on the topic before “Jihad Jane” was arrested in October 2009 for plotting to kill him. However, we’ve been covering Lars Vilks and the Roundabout Dogs since his first drawing was removed from the art show in July 2007.

Many thanks to Liberty DK for translating the interview, and to Vlad Tepes for the subtitling:


00:00   Interview with the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who drew the prophet Mohammed as a dog. The terrorist organization Al Qaeda promised a bounty of $150,000
00:05   to whoever who could kill Lars Vilks, and there continues to be a price on his head.
00:10   The 68-year-old Vilks was the victim of previous assaults and also arson attacks, and the police
00:15   have prevented several assassination attempts against him. For that same reason he is under the constant protection of bodyguards,
00:20   both within and outside of his home. A protective detail that was further intensified after the 14th February.
00:25   Earlier today we had a visit from Lars Vilks here in the studio,
00:30   and I started by asking him how he assessed his own situation here three weeks after the assassination attempt.
00:35   Well, I now have a different life. For the most part my life has changed.
00:40   Now, one could say that these changes have happened gradually over a long period of time.
00:50   It began in 2007,
00:55   so it wasn’t as if it was a shock, as if it had gone from 0 to 100.
01:00   But absolutely, I have now lived quite some time under extraordinary circumstances.
01:05   And it’s certainly a new lifestyle.
01:10   Have there been new personal sacrifices with this new assassination attempt?
01:15   No, not yet. But some things ARE happening right now.
01:20   I have to leave my home as I cannot live there any more.
01:25   So my daily life and existence are being restructured.
01:30   As you say yourself, this is not something that has happened suddenly, you have been under threat for several years,
01:35   you have been under protection and you have also been the victim of a previous assassination attempt. But had you really
01:40   imagined that one day there actually would be a man who would be standing there with a weapon
01:45   who actually wanted to kill you?
01:50   No, I really didn’t think so. These last years we have experienced a rising amount of amateur terrorism.
02:00   And they haven’t been very professional. They have relied on the element of surprise.
02:05   But now we see people with real weapons,
02:10   and who can use them.
02:15   That was surprising.
02:20   What do you think about, well, now you didn’t get to be face to face
02:25   with the assassin yourself, but what do you think of a 22-year-old
02:31   young man with a Muslim background who is motivated
02:36   in equal amounts by Jihadism and gang-type crime,
02:41   that such a young man wants to kill you because of a drawing?
02:46   Well, it doesn’t surprise me, because there is a long story behind that.
02:51   It is this whole story that is rolled out.
02:56   If you look at Al-Qaeda’s death-list you can see which people they have picked out.
03:01   And which they also have done. And we also received a reminder with what happened with Charlie Hebdo.
03:06   It almost had the same structure.
03:11   So it didn’t appear out of nothing.
03:21   But what if you had happened to stand face-to-face with him, or just one of these young
03:26   angry Muslims who think that what you have done
03:31   is the worse possible thing, and they would want to get an answer from you as to why.
03:36   What would you answer?
03:41   Well, there are many angry Muslims who also are Islamists – but who also don’t
03:46   use that type of violence, but who are still very very angry
03:51   and who I have spoken a great deal with on the phone and on Facebook.
03:56   And…
04:01   you can’t really say anything. If you try to discuss it,
04:06   this is what happens when religion becomes political…
04:11   then it is a part of the public discourse and has to be able to withstand satire and critique…
04:16   just like all other political issues, but it becomes too difficult.
04:21   But when they then say Lars Vilks, why do you want to insult something that is
04:26   dearest to us, that is the prophet. The other day, for example, I talked
04:31   to a well-spoken, intelligent young man with a Moroccan background, where we happened to talk about
04:36   you and the Mohamed Dog drawing. And he said that Lars Vilks
04:41   should have the opportunity to express himself as an artist, but why does he have to spit the prophet’s face?
04:46   It would be the same as insulting my own family. And apparently that is the way many Muslims look at it.
04:52   Yes, but that is the problem we have with a religion that hasn’t been modernized.
04:57   It would have been fine if this religion had been something private.
05:02   Then there wouldn’t have to be so much trouble about that.
05:07   But here we have a religious authority that also is a political authority.
05:12   This whole project is about religion being able to control all of society, society in its entirety.
05:17   And then they want to make it into a taboo.
05:22   Against challenging and making satire about authority –
05:32   in its broadest sense, that’s what art does!
05:37   But can you now, where you, as you yourself say, are forced to, regarding personal sacrifices…
05:42   to give up your home, and you, as I understand, frequently have to change your address…
05:47   and there are now also “corpses on the table”, do you still manage to see the “art”
05:52   in this project, in this critique of authority?
05:57   Yes. One could say that art has been
06:02   my project. And then there have been reactions and actions
06:07   that can be ever so terrible. But that is the world…
06:12   and that doesn’t change anything. It is more about the fact that in 2007
06:17   I made a drawing. And now I have talked about everything that has happened
06:22   and it tells a story. And it is evident that that story is interesting.
06:27   So even though it has had tragic consequences…
06:32   it still has to be told.
06:37   But does it really have to be told? You have presumably been able to follow the debate and the discussion after what happened
06:42   at Krudttønden, where many have said, there MUST be a limit
06:47   to how much you provoke and continue to insult some people.
06:53   We don’t just live in a small national frame as we did 100 years ago.
06:58   Now we are part of a global society and have to take note of the fact that there are some people who don’t like it when their religion
07:03   or authority is derided, so perhaps we should introduce a BUT
07:08   in our use of freedom of speech.
07:13   Yes, but then we are in politics again. Are we then no longer allowed to challenge and criticize political ideas?
07:18   It then becomes a huge democratic problem
07:23   if there is a political authority
07:28   that we are not allowed to challenge in any way, but which should be exempt from freedom of expression.
07:33   I can’t see how that can be reasonable.
07:38   There can be a lot of Muslims who protest
07:43   who are not at all violent; most of them are not violent…
07:48   they just feel insulted. They can participate in the discussion,
07:53   put forth their views and also take a distance from it.
07:58   But when a part of the dialogue happens with violence and threats,
08:03   then there should not be a dialogue at all.
08:08   But aren’t they in our culture and in our understanding ready to,
08:13   that we have to meet somewhere in the middle, that is, there has to be a willingness to compromise.
08:18   Because what you are saying, there could a person perhaps on your own behalf saying “yes, I agree”… but
08:23   in a societal way it would be seen as a fundamentalist position…
08:28   That is the opinion of many, as we can read in different editorials in both Danish and Swedish newspapers…
08:33   and which is therefore also a call for you to look at yourself in the mirror and say…
08:38   “No, OK, that is to go too far, we all have to compromise a little.”
08:44   Well, the fundamental principle then becomes a bit paradoxical,
08:49   when you use violence and threats as an argument.
08:54   “We will shoot more people if you don’t do as we say.”
08:59   And then people say, as you do, if you don’t want to go along with that then you are a fundamentalist.
09:04   But, but, but… what is your opinion about the critique that has been forth by, amongst others, yourself
09:09   being a freedom of speech fundamentalist, that is… to go too far. What is your view on this?
09:14   Well, my position is that you can’t have dialogue or negotiations
09:19   with violence and threats. That is not something that we should take up as an argument.
09:24   We can discuss freedom of expression in other ways but…
09:29   that part of it should not be a part of the dialogue.
09:34   We shouldn’t let ourselves be influenced by threats and violence.
09:39   We should also remember that I made that drawing in 2007.
09:44   And it became a symbol of agitation.
09:49   And it is still the one that is being discussed.
09:54   Regardless of what I do…
09:59   it doesn’t change anything because everything is already defined.
10:04   And one could also say that
10:09   it is not a given, on the contrary, far from it as a matter of fact.
10:14   It is unlikely that such a situation should happen.
10:19   There is no mechanism whereby a drawing of the prophet would lead to anything.
10:24   Usually something like that wouldn’t lead to anything special because there are many drawings been made. But these were special circumstances.
10:29   It is about how it is being published and mediated.
10:34   Exactly, but you have then become one of the few
10:39   symbols which militant and radical Muslims say are the means
10:45   to great pain in their life and self-understanding. Is there something about that,
10:50   because, as we have talked about before, now it has become extremely serious,
10:55   and how do I put it, many places around Europe and also here in the country, people discuss
11:00   what we should do now where we can see that people are being attacked. Debates are being cancelled;
11:05   people don’t dare show up. You have just recently had a meeting in Göteborg cancelled…
11:10   so here and there people are thinking this has gone too far. What do you think about that?
11:15   Is it your colleagues, is it the media, is it the politicians who are failing or…
11:20   is have they become a little wiser in not wanting to provoke
11:25   a violent reaction?
11:30   Well, then the terrorists have succeeded, they have with threats and violence created fear.
11:35   And then we draw back.
11:40   There is a paranoid side to this…
11:45   In principle, when I go into this room then you should leave.
11:50   Because it is dangerous to be where I am.
11:55   It’s dangerous to be in your company? Yes, when I go in then everybody leaves, that is the principle you would then have.
12:00   And that can go as far as we
12:05   see terrorists everywhere. Wherever I show up, there is danger.
12:10   In all situations and that also has a influence on politicians.
12:15   And Vilks, now you say that
12:20   it is of course depressing that the terrorists in a way have won, they have succeeded at least in achieving a sort of milestone
12:25   which is to make cowards of people or, threaten somebody into silence. The obvious question is, of course,
12:30   What do we then do about this?
12:35   Well, it is my opinion we shouldn’t do anything but continue business as usual.
12:40   If you encourage them then it is obvious to them that they are on the right track.
12:46   “Look here, we just have to continue pressuring them
12:51   then we can get more and more demands through.”
12:56   We have to show that it doesn’t pay, and that they can’t change anything.
13:01   Does that then mean to keep on doing and keep on doing,
13:06   that you would do a repeat what you did in 2007,
13:11   that if it was artistically relevant would you then draw a new caricature of the
13:16   Muslims’ prophet?
13:21   Well, I have made this symbol into my trademark as an artist…
13:26   Because I have come to the conclusion that even if I made a thousand more drawings then it wouldn’t matter at all.
13:31   Nobody looks at them, they are not interested in them other than as a symbol, which then grew.
13:41   In all discussions we end up back at that one.
13:46   People don’t know of anything else. It doesn’t change anything.
13:51   But would you do it again?
13:56   Well, as I said I have made lots of drawings and paintings and they are also for sale.
14:01   That I have continued with.
14:06   There have been lots of complaints about it not being good enough, the style was wrong…
14:11   So I have reproduced it in many other styles, but that doesn’t matter.
14:16   The subject doesn’t get any deeper, it is merely of symbolic value.
14:25   You said that the terrorists’ methods are those that have won,
14:31   and people leave the room when you come in, and what the viewers can’t see right now is that there are bodyguards here and.
14:36   there are police around DR’s building and that you are well-protected,
14:41   and that is of course good for your personal security, but it is sad regarding society’s view about
14:46   how we should be able to express ourselves freely. This begs the question, if we are to go back to a place
14:51   where you for example don’t have to be under constant protection, or Flemming Rose or Kurt Westergaard
14:56   or others. What do we then do? Do we continue to push the issue and hope that
15:01   in five generations those who don’t understand it today…? Or will we by necessity have to say, OK,
15:06   yes, we have freedom of expression, but perhaps it has gone a step too far?
15:11   It is a question about a modernisation principle. Either you believe in democracy
15:16   as a way to a modern society…
15:21   and the democratic society as we know it. The way I see it there is no alternate model.
15:26   If you relativize the democratic principles in society,
15:31   then what kind of society do we really have?
15:36   How do you experience the external world’s — it could be the media’s or politician’s —
15:41   view of you and support for you. There is a quote that you have often been presented for
15:46   which comes from Uffe Ellemann, our former Minister of Foreign Affairs who some years ago said,
15:51   I quote: “A crazy Swede is running around, and I’m sorry to say but
15:56   Lars Vilks has begged and pleaded to be attacked and I don’t feel sorry for that Swede who has done all he could to provoke.”
16:01   End quote. That is not an opinion Uffe Ellemann has withdrawn,
16:06   and many I have met are in agreement. Lars Vilks is just asking to be attacked.
16:11   Well, as I said I made a drawing in 2007 for a small exhibit in Sweden.
16:16   And that was OK…
16:21   I was invited and it was a part of on exhibit.
16:26   But finally it was removed from the exhibit out of fear, and that then started a debate in Sweden.
16:31   And that debate continued for some time,
16:36   and then it was as if the whole thing just fizzled out and that was that.
16:41   But then, by coincidence the quite small
16:46   Swedish paper Nerikes Allehanda wrote an editorial where they showed the picture.
16:51   And it was followed by a really good article, a fantastic good article, that was about
16:56   society and blasphemy and the right to blaspheme,
17:02   derived from a right to be informed.
17:07   And by then it had already been shown in the big Swedish newspapers without any reaction whatsoever.
17:12   But right there somebody started a protest movement…
17:17   and who also had contacts in the Middle East, and then it really started to pick up speed.
17:22   If Ellemann-Jensen think that I planned that this should happen…
17:27   that there in Örebro were people who…
17:32   Everything was really
17:37   out of my control the moment I delivered the drawing to the exhibit.
17:42   After that it simply became a part of the media landscape and editorial decisions.
17:47   And the spreading of material.
17:52   So you can ask why the papers, the responsibility that they have.
17:57   Then you have to ask what the heck they are doing, why do they have to show those pictures?
18:02   If they hadn’t done that this whole thing wouldn’t have happened. Are they leaping about
18:07   wanting to be a target for various things?
18:12   But what I was also thinking, do you have an experience that you have been let down? Sure, there is a Lars Vilks Committee
18:17   that arranges meetings and supports you, and they were the ones who for example arranged the meeting
18:22   at Krudttønden, and you have of course a certain amount of backup but generally…
18:27   do you think that there is enough recognition of the view
18:32   well, that you are propounding?
18:37   Well it (recognition) has become better after the event in Copenhagen, because I think people are beginning to understand
18:42   this is serious. There are many who had thought that it was a bit fantastical,
18:47   and that those who have tried anything were not capable of really doing anything.
18:53   Police and security were there, but that was just a bit of fantasy
18:58   and that it wasn’t anything serious. Now people understand that this in fact IS serious.
19:03   And that I was picked as a symbol…
19:08   because the terrorists won’t have a general target, freedom of expression as an overall concept.
19:13   But they want a specific target. And I became that target.
19:18   I am the symbol that they are focussing on.
19:23   I think quite a few of the debaters now understand this. And the support has been considerable.
19:28   There is no consensus and they are not in agreement, because it is a big question.
19:33   Because the issue is how we look at democracy in a multicultural society. How can you relativize this?
19:38   Can we find a compromise? It is incredibly difficult.
19:43   And that is why it has that controversial side
19:48   and we have to continue talking about it and that is what I think we should do.
19:53   The discussion has taken a turn.
19:58   That is much more obvious today than it used to be.
20:03   But what type of society do you envision emerging, or perhaps fear?
20:08   That if we don’t continue challenging we will get
20:13   this relativization you are talking about, because it is correct, we live in a multi-ethnic
20:18   and in many ways multicultural society, and if we don’t continue to hold onto
20:24   that focus you talking about, where do you think it will end?
20:29   I think we will get through it, even though it will be difficult.
20:34   We don’t know how we modernize a religion such as Islam.
20:39   How to separate the private and the political.
20:44   I don’t see as impossible.
20:49   And I do think that Muslims
20:54   can think. There IS a modernization movement within Islam that is active…
20:59   and that gets more and more followers.
21:04   Where they think in that vein, that religion shouldn’t control politics.
21:09   But that religion is a private thing,
21:14   and that is a movement that we have to support.
21:19   But Vilks, you appear reflective about it and almost distant, don’t you get on a personal level, incensed and angry
21:24   over the fact that you, because of this drawing you made in 2007,
21:29   don’t you get angry that you now are forced to live with bodyguards
21:34   and to give up your home and that people are being attacked and some die?
21:39   Don’t you also harbour a large frustration about this?
21:44   Yes, of course. That terrible thing in Copenhagen.
21:49   this is the first time I have been back in Copenhagen and it IS an unpleasant feeling.
21:54   As if I had done something. I have been invited here to Denmark by the Lars Vilks Committee…
21:59   and I have had really nice meetings, seminars and debates.
22:04   Everything has been nice and peaceful. And then this happens.
22:09   And suddenly Copenhagen and Denmark have changed into something else.
22:15   It is terrible.
22:20   But the other thing you mention about my personal situation that is a matter of adjustment,
22:25   I have lived a long time under these conditions, and the security has gradually been increased.
22:30   In the beginning when there was a meeting in Denmark,
22:35   there would be a man from PET…
22:40   and suddenly security increased and I got bodyguards,
22:45   and my life became more controlled and organized and I can’t go in or out.
22:50   But basically I still had full freedom,
22:55   but that has now become limited. But the modus operandi is basically the same.
23:00   Just more intense?
23:05   Yes, it has become more intense and there are restrictions in another way. I can be an optimist,
23:10   and I imagine that it will become easier at some point in the future when I might get more freedom of movement.
23:15   The important thing for me is…
23:20   that I can live my life, that I can do my work and that I can do my things.
23:25   Even in a small space I can create my working space and…
23:30   But it could be that people around you, it is possible that you yourself can
23:35   do things and achieve more freedom, but people around you, as we have been over a few times,
23:40   get worried and might not want to have as much to do with you.
23:50   There are also some who think that it is too dangerous a project.
23:55   You could say that but it is not a project that I have any control over.
24:00   We can’t do anything about it. We can document what is happening,
24:05   but we can’t affect it. It is something that just happens.
24:10   And the starting point is still 2007 so it is just machinery
24:15   that keeps running and which generates different things.
24:23   And you can’t really do anything about it,
24:28   and the media exposure makes it worse, but it would also be wrong not to do that.
24:38   Here at the end, when you were at Krudttønden you didn’t get to speak because of the attack but
24:43   you were supposed to discuss “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression”, and one of the questions
24:48   you were supposed to discuss was “should you put your life as an artist and activist on the line?”
24:53   You have already been a bit in over this
24:58   but today, in light of what has happened and in recognition of the fact of how you have to live now,
25:08   what is your answer? Well, when you do these type of things it’s not with life on the line.
25:14   You don’t think about that. You just do your thing.
25:19   My original project was a critique of the art world,
25:24   and the art world’s political agenda,
25:29   and to doubt religious authority, which is very common in art.
25:34   It then catapults into the world and has enormous consequences.
25:39   And the question is then, how do you react to that?
25:44   Of course one has to take responsibility, but what happens, happens.
25:49   And then you can ask, is it good or bad? Am I right or am I wrong?
25:54   I can see that this is a big democratic problem.
26:05   There is good reason to defend it. I can’t say that I have done anything wrong.
26:10   And if I have personal regrets because it makes my life difficult,
26:15   I have to accept that. As an artist you do live with a certain amount of risk.
26:20   So you shouldn’t back out of this kind of situation but accept it.
26:25   Even though other people have been killed?
26:30   Well, it is not my responsibility that there are murderers who,
26:35   because I made a drawing in 2007, think they have a right to shoot whomever they want.
26:40   If we want that type of society then we are in a gangster world.
26:45   He made a drawing so he is guilty. It’s his fault, if he hadn’t done it,
26:50   he should have understood that we would shoot people many years later
26:55   because he made a drawing. That is a very strange reasoning.
27:00   Lars Vilks, thanks for being with us today.
27:05   And we can add that Vilks, next week, a month after the attack
27:10   will receive the Free Press Society’s Sappho prize.

For previous posts on Lars Vilks and the Roundabout Dogs, see the Modoggie Archives.

6 thoughts on “An Interview With Lars Vilks

  1. Mahomet was more like a snake than a dog. A dog at least has some social sense, but a snake just kills anyone who offends it just like Mahomet and his hard core followers.

    Since psychopathic Mahomet the serial killer, serial rapist, and pathological liar is certainly burning in hell right now due to his corrupt immoral actions, it seems that the most appropriate drawing of him would be that of a snake burning in hell along side the false god Allah who lives there.

  2. Too bad they don’t let him carry a good ‘ol Colt 1911 forty-five.
    Like mine.
    By now there would be (at least) one less [racist expletive derogatory personage] to deal with in his backyard.

  3. Excellent, excellent interview. Vilks is a very low-key speaker who packs an amazing punch with his uncompromising ideas. He stands firmly on the grounds that there should be no compromise whatsoever with threats of violence, or with censorship on the grounds of not offending someone.

    I actually agree with Flintlock. You can be as philosophical as you like, but if you are disarmed, and have no chance against an assassin who can easily obtain illegal weapons, your passion for freedom will do you little good.

    The ones with guns can promote freedoms. The ones who are disarmed, only suicide. Vilks speaks eloquently and philosophically, but it is true that he keeps a corps of bodyguards employed. What about the other poor Swedes, totally disarmed by the government, who also run afoul of some raving Muslim, who only has to get together a gang of 3 of his fellow Muslims to carry out an easy assassination?

    The real purpose of gun control is not to prevent crime; nor to prevent the overthrow of the government. It is to take away any hope of self-protection by any citizen, and thus to promote a general fear of speaking out or standing out.

  4. “..there are murderers who, because I made a drawing in 2007, think they have a right to shoot whomever they want. If we want that type of society then we are in a gangster world.”
    Lars Vilks.
    It is Islam itself – Islamic law – that bestows the right to shoot a caricaturist: it is not something imagined by an individual. “To revile Allah or His messenger”, says the Manual of Islamic Law, “Reliance of the Traveller”, is an act that calls for death (o8.7(4), o8.0). Anyone is entitled to perform the killing, free of penalty, “since it is killing someone who deserves to die” (o8.4). The Charlie Hebdo killers were well aware of that law: “If someone offends the Prophet no problem, we can kill him”, one of them said over the telephone (BBC subtitles). That is Sharia law. Using force to Impose Sharia Law on All Mankind (I.S.L.A.M.) is the agenda of Islam, to be followed until there are no more kuffar to subjugate.
    Islam is a gangster world. Sharia is criminal.
    This fact is yet to be grasped by our Dear Leaders.

  5. That is a focused interview. A scary response. I guess you can’t bad mouth one who has and is experiencing a horrendously significant incident. There is calmness & placid reaction to it all that I cannot appreciate. Maybe taking to much vallium. He sure as hell is no historian and there seems no real sense of responsibility in his seeming reactions to the implications of it all. And then to get sme kind of reward for living with guards. I guess man has deteriorated over the ages or he has not gotten over the shock of it all. The Lord be with him

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