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When we arrived at the hotel, other agents were there to greet us, and a set of room keys were ready, a private elevator held for our use. Once in the room, the SWAT team remained standing guard outside the door. This was the routine for the next 40 hours. Our itinerary was shared well in advance, and the K-9 Units were used to sweep the unmarked SUV for bombs before we left the hotel.
This is the price one pays these days for running afoul of the Islamic Jihad. For now, anyway. But it was gratifying to see them in Independence Hall, standing in front of our Liberty Bell, sharing the fraternal bond of individual liberty that our founding fathers fought so hard to enshrine in our Bill of Rights and Constitution.
When the press finally got to the interviews, a common question many had was, if Vilks knew that such an illustration would spark Islamic rage, why do it? In his soft-spoken manner, he explained he was an equal opportunity iconoclast; why should Islam be spared from his artistic criticisms of religion any more than Christians, Jews or Hindus? He has insulted them all.
And the irony is this: While we wonder why he didn’t censor himself, Lars Vilks asks, why do we permit violent Muslims, in a tolerant multicultural society, to threaten critics with death and dismemberment? It’s a good question. The better question.
Standing up to tyranny is a courageous act and heroism often comes from the most unlikely places. Vilks’ drawing was a deliberate protest against artistic and journalistic self-censorship. It was also a notice to the bad guys that its threats are not okay, will not work and will not stand in our culture. We all owe him a debt of gratitude and can thank him by publishing our work and standing up to would-be murderers seeking to intimidate the rest of us into submission.
Create, write, publish, televise, broadcast—whatever—as an expression of your freedom of conscience.
Amusingly, Lars Vilks experiences the entire episode of this controversy as “process art.” To understand this vision, imagine a pebble being dropped into a still pool of water. The pebble drop is the instigating event, in this case, Vilk’s offending illustration; the concentric circles radiate outward in a ripple effect, representing all that we are experiencing throughout the world as a result. Vilks takes it all in, an actor in a morality play of his own design. His next project, he claims, is to make a Fred Astaire-style musical out of it all.
Art is a subversive endeavor, he says, meant to push the boundaries, make us think. Maybe one day we can all sing and laugh about it all. Until then, I will be shaking the trees and rattling the cages of all those around me who take for granted the relative tranquility of our quiet neighborhoods and insulated lives.
Craig Snider is Director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center-Philadelphia.
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