Mohammed Cartoon Exhibit cancelled over ‘real possibility’ of violence
Organizers said the decision to withdraw the exhibition was made after consultation with Scotland Yard counter-terror detectives.
Writing in a blog post on Sunday, Sharia Watch director Anne Marie Waters said if the event went ahead there was a possibility people could be hurt or killed.
The “Mohammed Cartoon Exhibit” was slated to be held in central London in September and feature guest speakers such as far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
Waters originally publicized the exhibition as a way to honor those who risk their lives for “free expression.”
However, Islamophobia watchdog Tell Mama, who said the exhibition was “not about free speech” but rather intended to “irritate and inflame” quickly condemned the event.
Tell Mama Director Fiyaz Mughal also criticized the event for inviting Wilders.
He said: “Inviting a man who is currently awaiting trial for racial hatred after vowing to make sure there were ‘fewer Moroccans’ in Holland is hardly the poster boy any sane or reasonable campaign wants to have as their keynote speaker.”
Visual representations of Muhammad are seen as blasphemous by many hardline Muslims. Previous exhibitions featuring cartoons of the Prophet have been accused of Islamophobia.
In announcing the event’s cancellation, Waters said it brought a mixture of “relief and foreboding.”
“Over the last few weeks, I have had several conversations with both Scotland Yard and counter-terror detectives,” she wrote on the Sharia Watch website.
“My conclusion? That the risk of running this exhibition is simply too high. When setting out to do something like this, one has to be prepared for the possibility of threats, or even violence, but it’s easy to underestimate the impact such things will have on the people around you.
“There’s a very real possibility that people could be hurt or killed – before, during, and after the event. This, together with the fact that our venue had indicated it wanted to pull out citing security and insurance concerns, and given the fear that people were feeling generally, the only responsible thing to do was to pull back and try to learn some lessons,” she added.
In May, two gunmen opened fire on a Prophet Mohammed cartoons exhibition in Garland, Texas. A security officer was injured in the attack, while Wilders, a guest at the event, was unharmed.
The two gunmen, later identified as Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, were both killed by police.
Waters said having to cancel the exhibition had taught her Britain is a frightened nation that has lost its “freedom.”
She called for the creation of a “global coalition for free speech” to defend “the right of people to criticize, analyze, reject, satirize, and mock any single set of beliefs, which is capable of affecting society as a whole, especially its freedoms.”