Celebrating the Death of Lars Vilks Diminishes Our Humanity

Earlier this month, when the news broke that Lars Vilks tragically died in a car crash, comments sections from Bangladesh to Tanzania, from Indonesia to Pakistan, erupted in gleeful celebration. Vilks was the Swedish artist who in 2007 stirred worldwide controversy with a series of drawings that depicted Muhammad as a dog. One of the most common reactions to his death was “Alhamdulillah,” an Arabic phrase that means “Praise be to God.” I am not a theologian by any means, but doesn’t that border on blasphemy? After all, praising God for the car crash implies that God had a hand not only in the death of Vilks, but also in the death of the two members of his security detail who had nothing to do with the offensive drawings, and were just doing their job. One commentator proclaimed that he “bought a cake to celebrate,” and there was plenty of language used by other commentators that cannot be reproduced in a decent newspaper. Comments sections of course are not exactly known for nuanced and intelligent discussion. Rather, they often bring out the worst in people, and I am reasonably confident that the vast majority of Muslims do not share the jubilant attitude toward the death of Vilks and the two police officers. Yet, that attitude still seems to be prevalent enough to warrant reflection.

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Blasphemy and the right to offend

The right to express one’s opinion freely is maybe the most important democratic right, and it is currently under assault in Bangladesh. Hifazat-e-Islam demands the introduction of strict blasphemy laws, and the government, instead of defending freedom, resorts to an ill-advised and imprudent appeasement strategy that hinders the press in its duty to inform the public, threatens the futures of young bloggers who were, and continue to be, arrested, and puts in peril the future of the democracy of the country. Continue reading “Blasphemy and the right to offend”