Lars Vilks: Swedish Prophet Muhammad cartoonist killed in a car crash

Lars Endel Roger Vilks

Lars Endel Roger Vilks

Lars Endel Roger Vilks (20 June 1946 – 3 October 2021) was a Swedish visual artist and activist who was known for the controversy surrounding his drawings of Muhammad. He also created the sculptures, Nimis and Arx, made of driftwood and rock, respectively. The area where the sculptures are located was proclaimed by Vilks as an independent country, “Ladonia”.

Lars Endel Roger Vilks
Lars Endel Roger Vilks

Muhammad drawings

In 2007, Vilks caused international controversy when he depicted Muhammad as a roundabout dog in three drawings, designated to be shown at an art exhibition at Tällerud, in July of the same year. Shortly before its opening, the organizers canceled their invitation concerning serious security concerns, and despite Vilks’ effort no other Swedish art gallery offered to exhibit his drawings.

Eventually, on 18 August, one of his drawings was published in the Örebro-based regional newspaper, Nerikes Allehanda, as part of an editorial on self-censorship and freedom of religion, and even though other leading Swedish newspapers[which?] had published the drawings before, it was this publication that led to protests from Muslim organizations in Sweden as well as condemnations from several foreign governments including Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Jordan as well as by the inter-governmental Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which also called for the Swedish government to take “punitive actions” against Vilks. Following this controversy, Vilks was forced to live under police protection after having received several death threats, including a statement by the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq which offered up to $150,000 for his assassination.

Lars Endel Roger Vilks Death

Lars Endel Roger Vilks, a Swedish artist who became a target for Islamic extremists after he drew the Prophet Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body in 2007, died in a car accident Sunday, along with two police officers charged with his security.

Lars Endel Roger Vilks Death
Lars Endel Roger Vilks Death

On Sunday afternoon, a police car carrying Vilks and two police officers collided with a truck outside the town of Markaryd on the highway, police said. Both vehicles caught fire and Vilks and the police officers were killed. The truck driver was taken to the hospital.

The cause of the accident was not known, according to the Swedish police, who initially said in a statement late Sunday that two police officers and a “protected person” died in the crash.

Swedish media later reported that the “protected person” was Vilks, who has lived under police protection since 2010, after al-Qaeda offered $100,000 for his death. The Swedish Police Authority eventually confirmed his identity.

The cause of the accident remains under investigation, but “nothing points to an external attack or a terrorist attack or any other vehicles that were involved,” Calle Persson, a police press officer, told The Washington Post.

“We haven’t closed the door yet to the possibility that it could be a crime, but nothing points to that now,” he said, adding that the police were mourning the loss of two of their colleagues.

Vilks’s series of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad was poorly received by many Muslims who considered them deeply insulting to the founder of their faith.

Lars Endel Roger Vilks Death
Lars Endel Roger Vilks Death

The Swedish cartoonist intended to illustrate a debate about freedom of speech in art, but later told Reuters he was “naive” not to realize his cartoon could spark a furor that extended far beyond Sweden’s borders.

Some of his artwork in Sweden was later vandalized, and he went on to receive death threats and was assaulted in the months and years following the controversy, eventually needing full-time police protection.

In 2014, Colleen LaRose, an American woman who called herself “Jihad Jane” on the Internet, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to kill Vilks years earlier. And in 2015, a terrorist who went on a shooting rampage in the Danish capital of Copenhagen first targeted an event on “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” organized by Vilks, leading authorities to say he was the intended target.

Many Swedish politicians expressed sadness and shock on social media on Monday.

“So unspeakably sad that it would end like this,” tweeted Amanda Lind, Sweden’s Minister for Culture and Democracy.

Vilks’s death comes just short of three months after Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist whose caricature of the prophet Muhammad wearing a turban with a fuse-lit bomb also incensed Muslims, died at 86.

Umair Saddique

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