Most Gates of Vienna readers are familiar with the “Motoons”, the cartoons of Mohammed that were drawn by various Danish artists for Jyllands-Posten and caused a major international crisis almost two years ago.
But few people outside of Finland have heard of the Finnish comic strip that featured Mohammed, or Ville Ranta, the artist who drew the strip. I was unaware of the story until KGS gave the country report for Finland at Counterjihad Brussels 2007. He mention Ville Ranta in his talk, and subsequently arranged for an interview with Gates of Vienna.
Mr. Ranta’s cartoon conversation with Mohammed — whom he depicted in a mask to avoid drawing a likeness of Mohammed — caused an uproar in Finland. His editor refused to withdraw the comic strip, and was fired as a result.
Ville Ranta agreed to answer a series of questions by email for the following interview:
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|Q:||I heard about your situation from KGS at Tundra Tabloids, but I know little about the story except the bare outline—- that you drew a comic strip for a Finnish cultural magazine, Kaltio, depicting a conversation with Mohammed (in disguise); that your editor, Jussi Vilkunaa, was fired for refusing to remove the comic strip; and that you have been marginalized as a result of the controversy. Could you please tell us the story of what happened, in your own words?|
|A:||You’ve got the correct basic information. At the time I and Vilkuna had to receive a huge amount of accusations of being irresponsible, provocative and even racist. The accusations were made by Finnish local politicians and other conservative thinking people, but also by some left-wing persons who seemed to think that any criticism towards anything that has something to do with minorities or the religions of European minorities is racism.|
The situation got this bad because the board of Kaltio magazine had closed its own websites to prevent anyone from seeing the comic. So, almost everybody who attacked us hadn’t read the comic I had made.
Most of the Finnish newspapers and other media, though, were supporting us all the time. So, after the panic was over, I don’t think me and Jussi had too bad a reputation. Still there are people who think that I’m some kind of provocative racist as an artist but there aren’t many of them.
The funny thing with the Finnish press was that, even though they supported us quite loudly, they didn’t publish my story. Nobody did. This made the comic almost mystical and legendary. Of course those who could use internet well, found it, but majority of the Finnish public never read the comic in its full length.
As you probably have seen, the comic itself is very clearly against racism, violence and war.
Today I’ve found new papers to draw for. After a year’s break in publishing critical comics anywhere I started to draw for Ilta-Sanomat which is one of the biggest newspapers in Finland and the critical magazine of Finnish Journalists Association, Journalisti.
|Q:||Have you been threatened as a result of having drawn the comic strip?|
|Q:||Were there any demands from people that you apologize, and, if so, did you apologize?|
|A:||I didn’t apologize to anyone. I had a few discussions with these local politicians and the imams of Oulu and Helsinki. The town of Oulu apologized to me for having fired me in a panic from a project I was doing at the time. I accepted the apology but didn’t take my job back. I think my comic was a decent and very communicative attempt to create discussion between artists, politicians and religious people. Of course I knew that my satire and straightforward way of saying will upset religious Muslims here. But the comic isn’t offensive. Everybody has to be able to say honestly what they think and feel. As well as others have the right to feel upset. The imam of Oulu also admitted this to me. He said that we both are obviously for peace but our ways are different.|
|Q:||Have you been able to find work or sell your drawings since the crisis occurred?|
|A:||Yes. I already answered this above.|
|Q:||What happened to your editor, Mr. Vilkunaa? Has he been able to get a new job?|
|A:||Yeah. Jussi is at the moment the general manager of The Cultural Institute of Oulunsalo, which for example organizes music festivals and such in the area of Oulu.|
|Q:||How did public opinion react to what happened? Do you feel that the Finnish people support you?|
|A:||Well, they didn’t. As I told you, most of the people hadn’t read my comic and they were very suspicious. Traditionally, in Finland, people don’t easily like the ones who speak up. Here, critical speaking is often seen as an attack. People are very prudent and compromising when it comes to difficult subjects. But that is to change. Many people welcomed the open discussion on foreign politics, power and religions when we published the comic.|
|Q:||Is the climate in the Finnish media repressive, or is there some room for freedom of expression as it concerns Islam and other sensitive topics?|
|A:||Generally speaking, Finnish media is very free and works well. The other thing is that people themselves aren’t used to talking about things that concern foreign politics, countries, religions, things like that. That is absolutely the tradition that comes from the era of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union. And Islam is a difficult subject. There’s very few Muslim immigrants in Finland, a few tens of thousands. Finnish media and public don’t know Muslims or Islam. That, of course, makes the subject uneasy. People are afraid of racism and becoming accused of racism.|
|Q:||Are you optimistic about the future in Finland?|
|A:||Sure. We just should take a lot more immigrants and open our society to Europe. We should not be so afraid anymore, not even of the Russians. Finland is like a man that has been beaten up too many times as a boy. He’s afraid of raising his head.|
|Q:||What are your own personal plans for the future?|
|A:||I focus on my art. I want to dance in the service of thought, as said Kierkegaard.|
|Q:||If you had it to do over again, would you still draw the comic strip?|
|A:||Yeah. I’d make it a bit shorter, though. Five pages were all too much for today’s public.|
|Q:||Thank you, Mr. Ranta.|
Once again, visit Ville Ranta’s website here, and read the comic strip (in English) here.