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Contentions

Mob Rule in Sweden

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks was attacked a few days ago during the screening of a short film he made depicting Islamic religious figures in homoerotic positions. He wasn’t hurt badly, but he was surely shaken up when a dozen or so enraged Muslims in the audience exploded out of their seats and rioted in the theater.

The police were on hand as though they expected something like this, just as Vilks himself must have expected it. His film is rude and provocative and could be considered offensive even to people who are not Muslims, which of course doesn’t excuse the reaction.

The reaction could have been even worse. Two people in the United States and seven people in Ireland were arrested in March for conspiring to kill him after he drew a cartoon of the prophet Mohammad with his head on a dog’s body. Vilks is an equal-opportunity offender who also enjoys tweaking the noses of Christians and Jews, none of whom, to my knowledge anyway, have ever rioted or tried to hunt him down with a death squad.

Someone posted a video clip to YouTube, which shows the entire incident in the Swedish theater from beginning to end, including the opening shots of Vilks’s film. What stands out more than anything else, aside from the dismal spectacle of a hysterical mob behaving atrociously for 10 minutes, is how the Muslims in the audience cheer when the screening is canceled for security reasons.

They cheered because they won. Censoring the film was the point. It’s almost certainly what they intended to do when they showed up.

The mob deserves most of the blame, but the authorities need to own a small part of it. Surely they believed in Vilks’s right to show his film. Otherwise they would have shut him down, and they would have shut him down in advance. And I can certainly understand why the organizers would want to cancel an event that became unruly and dangerous. Still, they pulled the plug on a film while a mob cheered as the police failed to keep order. Free speech in Sweden has taken a body blow. There is no way around this.

Too many Westerners don’t have a clue how to handle problems like this, but a solution, at least in this case, was actually pretty straightforward. Those who couldn’t control themselves should have been arrested or escorted out of the theater so the film could be restarted. The police, by failing to control or remove all the violent and potentially violent agitators, will only encourage more of the same as people can generally be counted on to learn what works and repeat it.



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