STOCKHOLM, Sweden – A Swedish artist displayed a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to a seminar in Stockholm despite a death threat from Al Qaeda in Iraq.
"Nobody has really seen this image and it has just become more and more impossible to show it, so I thought that ordinary people should be given the possibility to see it live," Lars Vilks told a crowd of about 100 people at a seminar Tuesday.
He then held up the drawing — a rough sketch depicting Muhammad's head on a dog's body — to applause from the crowd at the Berwaldhallen concert hall in the Swedish capital.
Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
On Saturday, the putative leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, offered rewards for the killing of Vilks and a Swedish newspaper editor who published the cartoon on Aug. 19.
Vilks said Monday that police had moved him to a secret location and told him he cannot return to his home following the threat.
Security guards searched the bags of visitors entering the concert hall where the 61-year-old artist joined a panel of speakers Tuesday for discussions on freedom of expression and Islam as a politicized religion.
During a question-and-answer session, a bearded man wearing a knitted skullcap walked up to a podium on the stage and delivered what appeared to be a threat against Vilks.
"I hope that your fate will be a lesson for you others," the man said in broken Swedish, drawing an angry reaction from a majority of the crowd, who booed, whistled and shouted at the man to get off the stage.
The man, who didn't give his name or identify the group he was representing, left the auditorium with an entourage of about 10 people and security guards following closely behind.
After the seminar, Vilks said he took the Al Qaeda threat seriously, but added he was not afraid.
"Because I'm brave," he said, laughing. "But if they are going to do something they will probably wait a while. It will be more dangerous a few weeks from now."
Vilks told the seminar that he made a series of drawings of Muhammad to test the boundaries of artistic freedom, saying "a work of art is successful when it meets resistance."
His drawings drew protests from Muslims in Sweden and abroad after Nerikes Allehanda, a newspaper in Orebro, published one of them in an editorial criticizing Swedish art galleries for refusing to exhibit the cartoons.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt invited 22 ambassadors from Muslim countries on Sept. 7 to talk about the sketch in an attempt to prevent a repeat of last year's uproar over Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.