Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, host of the free-speech conference in Copenhagen that came under attack this weekend – and quite possibly the primary target of the attackers, as he spent the last eight years living under an Islamist death sentence for drawing a cartoon of Mohammed – gave an interview to France24 after the attack, in which he declared he was not intimidated by the violence.
“To be honest, I don’t really see any other candidates,” he said on the subject of whether the Copenhagen assault was directed at him personally. “I’m living with a very high level of threats against my life, so it makes sense that I was the one being targeted.” As France24 notes, there have been several previous attempts on his life, including an arson attack against his house in 2010, and an American woman named Colleen LaRose (aka “Jihad Jane”) arrested in 2014 for organizing a plan to kill him. A separate plot in 2014 led to the arrest of seven Irish citizens, a mixture of Middle Eastern immigrants and local converts to Islam.
Vilks described the attack in Copenhagen as “surreal” and “really dramatic,” as he was hustled into a storage room for protection by police guards along with the organizer of the event, Lars Vilks Committee Chairwoman Helle Merete Brix. “We had to stay there for maybe 30 minutes,” he recalled. “I wasn’t that scared though, we were surrounded by police with their weapons pulled.”
Vilks refused to be intimidated by the latest in a long string of efforts to silence him permanently. “I’m not going to let this attack scare me,” he declared. “I’m going to continue just like I always have.”
However, in remarks quoted by the UK Guardian on Saturday, Vilks conceded that no matter how determined he might be to resist intimidation personally, he thought it was having a chilling effect on European culture. “I have problems when I have lectures or exhibitions, as most things are cancelled because of fright,” he said on that occasion, worrying that the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris would contribute to “a very high level of censorship when it comes to Islam and religion and things like that.”
In his France24 interview, Vilks saw little point in attempting to reason with terrorists about free-speech issues. “Considering they only understand the language of weapons, it’s kind of useless to talk with them about the freedom of expression,” he said. “The only thing left to do is to make them realize that their project is meaningless and carry on the way they do.”
In other words, Vilks is saying that active resistance to the violent Islamist version of the Heckler’s Veto is the only way to convince them the tactic is pointless, so they’ll abandon it. The problem is that many of the signals sent by European and American officials and pundits send the exact opposite message. They’re signaling that the Heckler’s Veto works great, provided vigilante censors demonstrate a clear and consistent willingness to respond with violence when they’re offended. Western liberals have spent years building the case that violating Islamic law with “offensive” language or cartoons of Mohammed is just like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater – an “abuse” of free speech that should be suppressed in the name of social harmony. The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam, and all that.
As in that notorious Obama speech to the United Nations, lip service is usually paid to the idea that other religions’ sensibilities should be respected as well, but everyone knows there isn’t a European or American liberal alive who seriously thinks Christians or Jews are going to start shooting up magazine offices and free-speech conferences because they feel insulted, and they’d never willingly submit to this kind of free-speech challenge from any religion except Islam.
The “Je Suis Charlie” solidarity movement petered out with the embarrassing spectacle of British cops asking for lists of everyone who purchased the best-selling post-massacre issue of Charlie Hebdo, so the Ministry of Tolerance could keep an eye on them. Maybe the Copenhagen assault will re-invigorate European, and American, determination to stand up for freedom of speech without compromise… or maybe it will convince the next prospective sponsor of a conference on “Art, Blasphemy, and the Freedom of Expression” to quietly decide the event is not worth the potential risk, especially if artists who are actually living under blasphemy death sentences are invited to discuss the freedom of expression.
One other interesting thing about Lars Vilks’ interview with France24 is this passage inserted by the French media outlet, explaining why Vilks lives with constant murder attempts after drawing a cartoon of Mohammed (dutifully referred to as “the Prophet Mohammed” by France24): “According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad is considered blasphemous.” Funny, the massed ranks of Western liberal journalists and op-ed writers spent weeks after Charlie Hebdo trying to convince us mainstream Islamic tradition said no such thing, and the Islamists were getting their own religion wrong. May we assume that effort has been abandoned?