Portraying Muslims as sub-human is not ‘free speech’

The depiction of Prophet Muhammad as a dog by a Swedish cartoonist has sparked off controversies and renewed debates on the limits to free speech. The incident at Uppsala University when Muslim protesters physically attacked Lars Vilks while giving a lecture on the limits of free speech is presented in the media as yet another instance of Muslim intolerance and violence. But let us first examine the subtext of the message that Vilks is trying to convey….

Muslims, in Vilks’s view, as represented by their prophet, are sub-human creatures to be looked down upon. They are perhaps the worst vermin that “nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth”, to use Swift’s phrase in a different context. In this respect, Vilks’s message seems fairly similar to that conveyed by the short “documentary” film Fitna produced by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders….

But does Vilks realise the impact of this kind of representation on the lives of ordinary European Muslims going peacefully about their business? Does he realise that the image he has created feeds into the racial profiling and stereotyping targeting the Muslim population in Europe in particular? …

Vilks has succeeded in gaining his moment in the spotlight. But the legacy of his action will be the perpetuation of a cycle of hatred and suspicion.

Amira Nowaira at Comment is Free, 21 May 2010