Swedish Artist Known For Anti-Muslim Art Killed

A controversial Swedish artist who rose to fame based on sacrilegious cartoons suffered a fatal crash on October 4th in the town of Markaryd, Sweden. Lars Vilks was traveling with two police officers in a civilian vehicle when the car lost control and swerved into the wrong lane. The vehicle reportedly collided with a truck before both vehicles burst into flames. Both Vilks and the police officers died. The truck driver sustained multiple injuries and was brought to a hospital, where he is currently being questioned about the accident.

Police officers say there was no “foul play” involved in this accident; however, they are unsure as to how the car was able to swerve into another lane and hit the truck at high speeds. Currently, Al Jazeera reports, they suspect that a tire explosion could have caused the accident, due to tire remnants discovered at the scene.

“Nothing points to an external attack or a terrorist attack or any other vehicles that were involved,” Calle Persson, a police press officer, said in a Washington Post report. “We haven’t closed the door yet to the possibility that it could be a crime, but nothing points to that now.”

In an Al Jazeera report, the police press statement further states, “This is a very tragic accident. It is now important to all of us that we do everything we can to investigate what happened and what caused the collision.”

Police did not release the original confirmation of Vilks’s death. Rather, his partner revealed the news to a Swedish daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter.

Vilks died approximately 14 years after his depiction of the Prophet Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body incited fury and shock within the Muslim community and throughout the Western world. The outrage, which sparked globally, resulted in the former Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeld meeting with 22 diplomats from various Muslim countries. However, Vilks’s consequences did not stop there. The Washington Post reported that an Al-Qaeda partner put a $100,000 value on Vilks’s head. Three years later, in 2010, two men in the Republic of Ireland were arrested after police discovered them plotting to kill Vilks. Later in that year, two men also made attempts to burn down the cartoonist’s home. In 2015, Pennsylvanian American extremist Colleen LaRose, known by her internet personality “Jihad Jane,” was arrested and sentenced to approximately 10 years in prison after she, too, created plots to kill Vilks. Finally, in 2015, at a conference designated for the discourse on free speech in Copenhagen, Vilks was nearly killed in a terrorist attack.

When Esquire Magazine interviewed Vilks in 2015, the cartoonist said that he was “naive” to think such disrespectful depictions wouldn’t cause outrage, and explained that his reasoning was that in Sweden, people love and enjoy dogs. However, Muslim countries do not see dogs this way. This is because of “religious dogma,” Vilks said. “I wanted to remind people of that. That’s when I came upon the combination and drew the Prophet as a roundabout dog, a positive dog.”

All of Islam reveres the Prophet Muhammad, and depicting him or members of his household alongside things which are forbidden and violent is not only offensive, but heartbreaking. Unfortunately, there are countless European artists who have created, and continue to create, such illustrations. Creative or political freedoms do not permit any artist of any denomination to create deliberately offensive content, especially in nations which are known for persecuting their Muslim minorities. Those in editorial positions at any publication must draw a line when it comes to what sorts of media they share with the rest of the world, because, as we see in Vilks’s case, every artistic expression influences its viewers, who may react strongly. Second, it is also important that the Muslim community continue to use their social media platforms effectively to call out acts of wrongdoing and hold such people accountable for their actions.