Swedish Mohammed cartoonist in hiding after arson attack

They’re going to kill him, you know.

A Swedish artist whose drawing of the Prophet Muhammad with a dogs body angered Muslims said Sunday he doesn’t feel safe in his home at night, after a week of attacks against him.

Lars Vilks told The Associated Press he has started sleeping elsewhere since an attempted arson attack Friday against his home in Nyhamnslage, southern Sweden…

Vilks said he has decided to sleep elsewhere as a precaution, but doesn’t think there will be another attack against him right now because of increased police patrols.

“During the day I don’t think it is dangerous because I can keep watch over myself,” Vilks said. “But I have to realize that I can’t be there during the night.”

Swedish police arrested two people in connection with the arson attack but refused to release their names. All we know is that they’re “of Kosovar origin.” (Damned Serbs.) The question of the moment, courtesy of Greenroomer J.E. Dyer: How much energy do we want to expend defending deliberate provocateurs like Lars Vilks?

I don’t know what the Swedes attending the Vilks presentation would have been willing to fight back over, but it doesn’t surprise me that no one cared to make a provocative video juxtaposing Mohammed with gay images his casus belli. We need to have this very clear in our Western minds as our troubled world lurches forward. The right to offend others is something that gets a pass because of the good that comes from the better, higher, more important right to make our own philosophical decisions. The right to be deliberately offensive is a parasite, not a first principle…

So there is certainly reason to be concerned. But the fact that people sat passively while howling Muslims shut down a showing of the Vilks video isn’t an indictment of the West’s moral courage. Provocative videos with subversive sexual overtones – expressions that some people know will offend and incite others – are not the definition of what is “Western.” They are merely what we tolerate, as the detritus – and yes, I mean the detritus; there is nothing high or noble about lampooning someone else’s religion – of the worthwhile, worth-defending attributes that do define us.

I wrote about this 10 days ago in a different context. It’s true that Vilks is a provocateur; it’s also true that gratuitous provocation causes more problems than it solves. The question is whether his provocation is, in fact, gratuitous. As I said in my earlier post about the students suspended from school for wearing American flag shirts on Cinco de Mayo:

The difficulty here, I think, is in recognizing that not all provocations are necessarily wrong. Wrongness depends on what principle the provocation was meant to defend. Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali were surely guilty of provocation when they created “Submission,” but it was in service to a liberal value — i.e. defending women from abuses under Islam. So too with the kids in American-flag tees: They’re making a point about integration and the melting pot, a classic liberal value (if not, perhaps, a “progressive” one). If that bothers you as an American — or, in the parlance of constitutional law, if you’re an American student who finds that “disruptive” — then you’re the one with the problem. Adjust your attitude accordingly.

That applies here too. Who’s the real provocateur, Vilks or his antagonists? Intimidation by Muslims is now so much a part of western life that some institutions will censor themselves before any threats are made. The Islamic website that had Comedy Central running scared didn’t belong to Al Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood or some known jihadist outfit; it was a Mickey Mouse mujahid page run out of New York City, yet a huge corporation that prides itself on irreverence still backed off showing images of Mohammed on its say-so. That’s the provocation — the idea that western media, on pain of death, should police itself for offense to Islam. Vilks is simply answering it, just as Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali did. Sure, his answer is crude, but necessarily so: As Frum eloquently puts it, “the issue here is not art but courage.”

The authorities look the other way in hope of obtaining social peace. This policy does not work, and for two reasons:

First, the policy of impunity emboldens aggressive minorities. Instead of accepting that they must live and let live, these groups get the message they can dominate others by the threat of force.

But second, the policy of impunity backfires. While the authorities want quiet, ornery individuals like Lars Vilks are delighted to bust taboos and foment the very confrontations the authorities wish to avoid.

Vilks is just one of a multiplying band of deliberate provocateurs who have appeared across Europe over the past five years. Their work may not have much artistic merit, but the issue here is not art but courage. And there will always be enough courageous people to complicate badly the lives of uncourageous authorities.

See Patterico for further thoughts of how violence invites counter-provocation. With American and European intelligentsia in retreat, Vilks stands in the breach between free speech and barbarians like this. His weapon is crude, but at least he fights. And he’s not the one who’s advancing. Exit question: Does anyone seriously think those Swedes would have rushed to Vilks’s defense if he had been showing a more highbrow film?