Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Discussing Islam Too Hot for Western Art Institutions?

Twice now, a public sculpture by German artist Gregor Schneider has been planned and then scrapped because of political pressure. First in Venice and now in Berlin. The work is a large cube made of scaffolding and covered in black fabric. According to The Art Newspaper, "It is inspired by the Ka’ba in Mecca, the holiest site of Islam." In both locations, after giving the go-ahead to install the work, local authorities changed their minds. In both locations their reasoning seems to have been the same: fear of offending Muslims. Why that concern hadn't been thoroughly explored before they gave the go-ahead remains a mystery, but it's safe to assume they were convinced by communications after their announced support to withdraw it.

We've gone rounds here on whether institutions are disserving the public by caving into fear of retribution when work that might be seen as offensive to Muslims is considered for exhibition. One reader on that other thread even went so far as to suggest that only by going out and seeking work that stands an equal chance of offending Muslims do I earn the right to criticize such reversals. I disagree, but did eventually admit that should strong enough evidence be presented to me after I had decided to exhibit such work that doing so would represent a significant threat to our visitors, staff, or artist, I would reconsider. The more I think about it now, though, the more I'm certain I'd rather close the gallery than change the exhibition.

Now in the political blogosphere I'm fairly well known for blasting any even remotely biased anti-Muslim rhetoric, and I'll most certainly do so in the future, but I'm personally sick and tired of Western art institutions getting this so spectaculary wrong. If you're going to scrap exhibitions for fear of offending Muslims, you MUST, MUST, MUST also scrap exhibitions for fear of offending Christians (e.g, the Offili piece in the "Sensation" exhibition), or Jews, or Buddhists, or whomever. Full stop. It doesn't matter if they're less likely to resort to violence in their protests, the only honorable rationale for censoring work that critiques Islam is that you, as an institution, consider all religion off bounds.

There are two important reasons I insist upon that. First and foremost is my belief in freedom of expression. Without getting into whether Schneider's piece is important enough or not to exhibit (clearly at one point the authorities in both Venice and Berlin thought it was), such actions send a chilling message to artists about what they should or shouldn't explore. It's one thing for the art establishment to never recognize a piece as valuable, but another altogether to say, essentially, "Yeah, it's good, but we're too scared to exhibit it." That leaves the artist hanging out there, by themselves, without support to continue their exploration. And in that way, it's shameful.

Secondly, however, such reversals only encourage the nutjobs. Really. What's next? Caving in and not screening movies in public that might offend extremist Muslims? Discouraging Western women from wearing clothing in public that might offend extremist Muslims? Disguising churches or synagouges to prevent that architecture from offending extremist Muslims passing by? Seriously. Where the hell does it end?

Being human means sometimes being offended. The vast majority of Muslims living in the West fully understand that. Caving in to the criminals who are looking for anything to react against only serves to strengthen them. And I mean caving in by the imams and Muslim community leaders here, who I suspect were the ones who approached the Berlin authorities and convinced them the work might incite violence. Why the hell they weren't back in their communities preventing such violence instead is a good question.

When Christians in New York (including the mayor) strongly objected to the exhibiting of Offili's "Madonna" painting at the Brooklyn Museum, the museum responded by tightening security and sticking to their convictions. In other words, they acted like the community authorities on art we expected them to be.

The Venice and Berlin authorities should have done the same thing.

UPDATE: Tyler Green points us to a reason to be optimistic on this front: the upcoming exhibition at MoMA (Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking ) that looks, in part, at a spectrum of contemporary Muslim artists, including the Mona Hatoum, Shirin Neshat, and Shahzia Sikander.

62 Comments:

Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

Amen.

James

1/31/2006 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous bambino said...

hmmmm it's tough one..........
but i am by your side. whatever you say, you are TOTALLY right.

1/31/2006 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I know it's a tough one, Bambino. And I'm not suggesting that some art isn't truly offensive to Muslims, but in this instance, and the one I noted before, there was a very public reversal where the artist was told "You can do this" but then told "No you can't."

If the institution feels the work is too offensive, it should not offer to exhibit it...and it should do the legwork to find out how offensive it might be BEFORE offering to exhibit it.

It shouldn't permit itself to be blackmailed into changing its mind after a display of public support though. That pulls the rug off from under the artist's feet.

1/31/2006 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous jec said...

Yes, this IS a tough one.

When Christians in New York (including the mayor) strongly objected to the exhibiting of Offili's "Madonna" painting at the Brooklyn Museum, the museum responded by tightening security and sticking to their convictions.

The big difference here being that Christians might threaten the art work, even vandalize it or the musuem, but are unlikely to threaten human life.

This is not to say that I agree with what these institutions are doing. I honestly don't know what the answer is.

1/31/2006 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The big difference here being that Christians might threaten the art work, even vandalize it or the musuem, but are unlikely to threaten human life.

This is exactly the sort of thing I fight tooth and nail on political blogs, Jec. Muslims are no more likely to threaten human life than nonMuslims...unless they are criminals that is.

We have seen severe violence by criminals who are Muslim, it's true, but no more so that we've seen by Christians at other points in history.

1/31/2006 11:34:00 AM  
Anonymous onesocked said...

OKay yep its tough. But reading that art newspaper article really made me angry. This Dr Blume guy sounds like a complete two faced coward. I mean, if the account is true, initialy he supported the project with words that seemed intent on deflecting any criticism from those who would think it offensive on religious terms. He then makes contact with the artist saying things are getting "political". and then denies to the press that it was rejected for political reasons!? WTF? If this was the only time this happened to this project I MAY be convinced that it was scrapped for aesthetic reasons, but since the Venice authorities nixed it also? Come on we are not THAT stupid Mr Blume!

1/31/2006 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Well, tell me if I am wrong. I said "it's tough" cause I thought it was involving arguments between Muslims and Christians. But Ed explained that it's about the instituion is not keeping their word, what their promised to the artist about his work. So....
It is really fragile and deep topic. I would not go to discussion about Muslims and Christian. But I want to say is "It's all about political games played by high institutions" and the institutions fault.

Jec I agree with you except when you said "The big difference here being that Christians might threaten the art work, even vandalize it or the musuem, but are unlikely to threaten human life."
I did not see the threats by Muslims to human lifes. It's only institution assume "fear of offending Muslims" And I didnt see any direct human life threats by Muslims, and even if it is some threats it's institutions responsibility of security of human lifes during exhibit.
Am I wrong? or misunderstood.

1/31/2006 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous onesocked said...

That being said, I am completely fearful of radical Islam and can undstand having concerns when Europeans are right there (feelng much of the brunt of the muslim reaction to OUR actions in the middle east no less). BUT they should call it as it is! If a project is cancelled because of fears of train bombings then say that. Dont insult our intelligence like this!

1/31/2006 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I am completely fearful of radical Islam

Radical anything gives one reason to be fearful, though, onesocked.

1/31/2006 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Edward, I agree with you regarding the role of institutions, but would also like to point out that all of this much-publicized censorship can only help Schneider's career. It may seem that the artist is being mistreated, but in fact it's great PR.

1/31/2006 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

That's a different issue "Radical Islam" and here you have my total support.

1/31/2006 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think Bambino makes an important point here: "I didnt see any direct human life threats by Muslims."

Yes, there are examples here (i.e., the film director van Gogh was slain because he offended certain criminals' sensibilities), but that hasn't happened here. In fact, the only folks suggesting it might happen, are the imams and Muslim community leaders asking the artwork not be installed (the Berlin art community was willing to risk it before convinced otherwise). So they (the imams et al.) are the ones perpetuating the stereotype that Muslims can only protest via violence. I'm sure there's an argument for preventattive measures here, but freedom of expression carries with it risks...risks that are worth it.

What is needed, IMO, is a dialog. Put the piece up, let those offended protest, let the institutions organize panel discussions, etc. etc. etc. Simply scrapping the plans only serves to fossilize the problem.

1/31/2006 12:16:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

“Muslims are no more likely to threaten human life than nonMuslims...unless they are criminals that is.”

The definition of “criminal” is important.

I am unaware that the Southern Baptist Convention, The Presbyterian Church (USA), The AME Zion Church, The Pope in Rome, or any other recognized Christian church, including Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church, has recently issued an official proclamation calling upon the Christian masses to rise up and slay an artist in the streets for creating a “Piss Christ” type of work - and on top of that, enjoying the blessing of such a death threat by a U.N. recognized government, as was the case with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie as embraced by the government of Iran.

The only thing that is more disgusting to me than the institutionalized fear of the art world (museums, art press, critics, etc.) to stand up for freedom of artistic expression in the face of radical Islam is the active participation of some artists in dumbing down their work to pass through customs. Last week I commented on the reality of so-called "global" art. That reality being that in far too many countries (especially Muslim nations) that the art that is exhibited has been censored and cleared for exhibition by government authority.

There's an interesting interview in the current edition of Art Papers magazine with an artist who I will not do the honor of mentioning by name because I am so outraged by his easy willingness to alter his work to pass through the "legalities" of exhibiting it at the Cairo Biennale. Suffice to say this: his original 3-D animatronic was conceived to be a nude representation of his body. In Cairo, with the artist's nonchalant consent, it will be fully clothed.

In a world where the majority of the inside art world never found (and to this day still refuses to find) the strength of a collective voice to condemn the slaughter of Theo van Gogh by radical Islamofacists, individual artists who are more than willing to bow down to Imams in Cairo to add an exhibition line to their resume comes as no surprise to me.

From one of your previous posts, which I loved, by the way: UPDATE: Via Oliver K, who always has his finger on the pulse, we find this wicked weekend chuckle...

Imagine a video of Mohammed prancing naked on the streets. And imagine how long the artist who created the video would live once that video was broadcast on Aljazeera.net. We know how long one such artist who refused to submit lived in Amsterdam.

Theo van Gogh was killed for this: Working from a script written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, van Gogh created the 10-minute movie Submission. The film is about violence against women in Islamic societies. It shows four abused naked women, wearing see-through dresses. Qur'anic verses unfavourable to women in Arabic are painted on their bodies.

What I know is this: if the art world refuses to acknowledge and consistently defend the world-wide right of artists to express themselves under the basic rights of freedom of artistic expression, then we can all just throw the towel in because rest assured that no other entity or organization or government or religion ever will.

James

1/31/2006 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous unosocko said...

I'm sure there's an argument for preventattive measures here, but freedom of expression carries with it risks...risks that are worth it.
Yes I agree. But after the London bombings I can understand why European governments have a weak backbone on “freedom of expression” I don’t agree with it but I understand. My fear of rad islam comes with a complete understanding of OUR govt’s culpability in feeding the hatred. Condi Rice brokered a deal today with the Russian and Chinese that sounds like the first step toward creating a “lets invade Iran” party! Hamas is the new Palestinian leadership. Alito is in the sup court. Canadians are conservative now (there is no where to go!) We are in some deep doodoo my friend!

1/31/2006 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think you're mixing two things, though, James. The actions of radicals (including the radical government of Iran) and the sensitivities of the faithful.

We have seen radical Christians (like Timothy McVeigh) or radical Jews (like the assassins of Rabin) respond to world events in very violent ways as well. We take time to differentiate between their actions and those of other Christians and Jews, and look for their individualistic motivations, rather than assuming all Christians are like that or all Jews are like that. But in the case of the van Gogh murder, we see many blanket statements...as if any Muslim who had the opportunity was just as likely to murder him as they criminals who did. This is where the diaolog must begin: correcting stereotypes like this.

I think the Schneider sculpture is likely to raise protests by the faithful, and he should have to address their concerns...but to assume their concerns will automatically lead to violence, just because the faithful in this case are Muslim, is part of the problem. Projecting the actions of a few criminals onto an entire populations is a very handy definition of "bigotry."

But after the London bombings I can understand why European governments have a weak backbone on “freedom of expression”

ARGHHHH!

Were the London bombings in response to a work of art???? Come on now.

1/31/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous oncesocked said...

spot on James!

1/31/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Unosocko,

"We are in some deep doodoo my friend!"

Doodoo implies a material that has some degree of firmness to it, upon which we can stand (however nasty it might be to stand there!)

I think we're actually drowning in a Mississippi post-Katrina River of liquid shit.

James

1/31/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous resocked said...

Ed we are on the same side. I agree much of the fear is irrational, especcially where it concerns displaying a work of art. And I am aware that it is stereotyping on thier part. I am just trying to put myself isn the shoes of the Europeans for a minute. The peeps who conducted the LOndon bombings were London citzens, not war-torn wild religio-antiestablishmentarians! Ha! THat had to be a shock to the system.

1/31/2006 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I am just trying to put myself isn the shoes of the Europeans for a minute.

I should probably offer this on a primarily political blog rather than one mostly dedicated to art, but the Europeans, as well as the Americans, need to learn two very important things.

First is something they already knew, but need to relearn obviously: we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Second, is that we are being systematically sold fear by governments that had until very recently sold us a brighter future instead. For the sake of future generations, we have to stop buying it.

1/31/2006 12:53:00 PM  
Anonymous onesock markie said...

And I am in total agreement witht you ed that a dialog needs to happen. The art needs to go up , fears need to be faced,challenged, and thereby alleviated.

1/31/2006 12:55:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

I've tried to be quiet about my political views, (maybe because I would have trouble to explaine my point of view in English , since English is my 4th language and my grammar mistakes) but lately I thought if I'll see something that I disagree, I will say my thoughts, and wont be shame of mispelling English. I wouldn't expect the opposite person's mind to changed, but would be really happy if that person will respect my thoughts about the issue, or topic instead of accusing in one word (such as Muslim).
That is a big differents between Muslims and radical Muslims. So in my opinion the point is of this topic is irresponsibility of the institution of not keeping their word. I do understand they have to think about safety and security of public. But please do not combine in one Muslims and radical Muslims. That's wrong.

1/31/2006 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

you go Bambino!!!

1/31/2006 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

"This is where the diaolog must begin: correcting stereotypes like this."

I believe the dialog must begin with acknowledging reality. And the reality is that radical Islam has orchestrated the assasinations of artists with the blessings, however tangential, of sympathetic elements within a less radical Muslim world, including governments.

Why do you think Aljazeera broadcasts videos of gory beheadings? Who does that appeal to? What's purpose does it serve to broadcast a video of an American having his headed chopped off to the Islamic world?

There are a lot of stereotypes in this world - including the stereotype that America and Americans have created all the problems in the Islamic world. That stereotype needs to be corrected as well and I for one very much welcome a truly open and honest dialogue of the subject.

However, one of the worst things that can be done to stiffle a truly open dialogue is to attempt to invalidate another person's opinion as being bigoted or steamed in stereotypes. Look at the near violent reaction of some Uptown whites in my hometown of New Orleans with respect to Mayor Nagin's "Chocolate City" remarks.

Many whites in New Orleans want Nagin's head on a platter for simply stating the truth - that New Orleans was a majority black city before Katrina and should allow all the blacks who wish to return home the right to do so.

The argument for the basic right of return for blacks to the city of their birth, to their very homes, has now been derailed by a new white majority in New Orleans because some would rather attempt to control the argument by defining what are the stereotypes of black and white life in New Orleans.

People need the freedom to speak openly and honestly. These problems aren't going to go away by trying to marginalize another person's point of view.

James

1/31/2006 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm sorry if you think I'm trying to marginalize your point of view, James. That's certainly not my intent. I do think you're still mixing two separate populations as if they were one, however.

the reality is that radical Islam has orchestrated the assasinations of artists with the blessings, however tangential, of sympathetic elements within a less radical Muslim world, including governments.

Artists' (plural) assasinations orchestrated by less radical Muslims? What evidence do you have of this and how are you defining "less radical Muslims"?

The Fatwa on Rushdie is certainly a low-point in the clash of values between Muslims and non-Muslims, but I don't think Khomeini qualifies as a "less radical" Muslim. YMMV.

1/31/2006 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

Thank God for stereotypes because we wouldn't have comedy without them.

It's heating up in here so let me try and cool it down a bit with a joke before leaving for the airport on yet another trip to New Orleans, and where I will no doubt be stripped search screened as a potential terrorist (along with a Spanish grandmother in a wheelchair, a retired white Naval officer and a Bjork Icelandic looking pale beauty queen) prior boarding the plane:

A Native American, A Politician Cowboy from Texas, and A Muslim were seated at the airport in Houston.

The Native American began to speak:

“Once we were many, but now, we are few.”

The Muslim replied, “I take pity on you. Once we were few, but now we are many!”

The Politician Cowboy from Texas chimed in. “That’s ‘cause we ain't started playin’ Cowboys and Muslims yet....”

James

1/31/2006 01:24:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

You are asking these institutions to be forthright and courageous by risking the lives of their employees and visitors. Principal is one thing, reality another. We have ample evidence that there are people out there who very well might take violent action against such a display. Their supposed affiliations don't make any difference.

You can't expect these administrators to uphold well meant decisions made in isolation when confronted by an ugly reality like a threatening phone call.

"Discretion is the better part of valor"

1/31/2006 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

There are reports on the subject of the arrests, detention, torture and imprisonment of artists that are available through Amnesty International.

I honestly believe that Khomeini was a kitten compared to Osama bin Laden.

One would think (at least I do) that videos of innocent people being beheaded in the name of Allah would inspire hundreds of millions in the Islamic world to march and demand that such criminals who perpetrate such unholy acts be arrested, tried and dealt with. It hasn't happened. I'm cynical at this point and don't think it will happen.

But, then again, video of America bombing the shit out of Iraq and 2,000 plus deaths of American soildiers and tens upon tens of thousands of deaths of innocent Iraqis hasn't inspired millions upon millions of Americans to march on D.C. and kick Bush's ass back to Texas either.

We're back to that liquid river of shit I mentioned earlier.

James

1/31/2006 01:35:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

tim,

i respect what you think and your concern about public and supporting the institutions about their responsobilities of safety visitors and employees. but on the other hand you are forgetting about the statement, where the institutions are hurting some people by race, religion, sexual gender etc.
I think it's all institution fault, cause in my opinion they are trying to direct our minds to specific directions. Like this sample, if we'll show this work, we will be in human threats by Muslims.
It's hard for me to wrap it up but, if you concern about safety, get enough security, personal to offer safe exhibit. But do not make statements where you are not directily but showing that "we want to show, and we are afraid that you'll get killed" Let public to decide if it's offensive to some people or not. And bottom line is support the artist, who is free of showing what he thinks is art. Do not blame your "human life threats" on somebody else, instead of your irresponsobilities.

1/31/2006 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Bambino and Edward I totally respect your differentiation between Islam and radical Islam. However, I think that for more people to be convinced the statement below:

In fact, the only folks suggesting it might happen, are the imams and Muslim community leaders asking the artwork not be installed.

will need to have the “not” removed and “anyway” added at the end. Then we will see and hear that differentiation from Muslims that I would assume speak for more than just themselves.

1/31/2006 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

"Do not blame your "human life threats" on somebody else, instead of your irresponsobilities."

The point is, when the phone call comes, saying if you show that we will kill people, principal, correctly, becomes a low priority. Even mea culpas are unimportant and possibly dangerous. It is not brave or principled to risk other peoples lives. (can we get Bushy to understand this?)

Art Institutions are out of their depth dealing with this, obviously, or they would never have gotten involved to begin with. Better to fade to the background quietly when confronted with hard facts than to compound it by promoting your own "selfless commitment to truth."

In Art, ego outweighs reason. That is not the environment for serious political discussions.

1/31/2006 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Bambino,

At so many levels I am so sympathetic to your thoughts. Ideally, I believe you are right.

Unfortuantely, my world view of reality has been deeply affected by what really happens when the levees fail, as they did in my beloved New Orleans. Everthing you thought your world was suddenly no longer exists.

Amsterdam (one of the most liberal places on the planet) could not imagine just a short time ago that an artist would be killed on the streets for doing nothing more than creating their art.

I believe that the American art world's view of reality has yet to taste that bitter pill. No, Islamofacists have not yet targeted American artists and killed them on our soil or bombed a musuem.

By what I know is this: if it does happen (and, sorry, but I do believe that it is very much a strong possibility and only a matter of time) then the American art world's view of itself will turn upside down just like life did in New Orleans.

Those of us from New Orleans knew that the levees could possibly fail. We lived with a fated acceptance of reality. What we should have done is moved heaven and earth (literally) to make sure those levees were competently built to withstand a Cat 5 hurricane.

Most cultural facilities in this country would barely withstand a mild windstorm, let along a political/religious hurricane of hate.

There are objects in museums that some people hate and a few, if given half a chance, would kill to eliminate from existence.

I very much fear for the vulnerability of our cultural institutions in a rising climate of religious/political intolerance. However, I have witnessed first hand our government's response to a national diaster of incalculable dimensions. I am personally reluctant to put anyone at risk for someone else's property or art because I have seen what protection exists and what post-diaster help will be offered following a catastrophe.

Let me be clear: I don't see our government getting into the business of protecting cultural facilities from possible attack. Just like the City of New Orleans, museums are on their own. It is an awful proposition to expect innocent people who work at museums to place their lives on the line for a principle that our government is unable, or unwilling, to defend.

James

1/31/2006 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Thank you crionna for your respect.

My point is, before the institution would make any statements, it should based and have some facts and description with specific threads, not with general comments such as “Muslims”
It’s offensive for people who are belong to Islam religion, like me. Like I said earlier it’s huge difference between “Muslims” and “Radical Muslims”
I believe you will have a lot of attention and disagreements with any kind of statements, that’s why they are statements :) But be clear with them, so you don’t have to deal with general public or general communities.
And in this case it’s about people who are Muslims, who live all around the world, and live next door to you.

James thank you for understanding and support.

1/31/2006 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

I just wanted to chime in about Edward's orginal opinion in the main post. I completely agree. There's no excuse for censoring work that might offend a Muslim and not bother to censor another that might offend another's religious belief. What this controversy teaches me is that Americans are afraid of Muslims more than any other believers. That's weird. I'm afraid of all religions about equally!

1/31/2006 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

I apologize for my long posts. I'm really off to the airport now and look forward to reading later tonight what others have to say.

I greatly appreciate you opening us this conversation. It is tremendously important.

James

1/31/2006 02:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

edward and bambino are really offended that some people (probably a lot of people, but maybe not all will admit it) think that muslim fanatics are more likely to react violently than christian, jewish or other fanatics. sorry, but that belief is there, maybe not completely justified, but maybe a little bit justified. is this a racist belief? maybe, but after theo van gogh, salman rushdie, etc., who wants to take the chance?

1/31/2006 02:32:00 PM  
Anonymous jec said...

You do find the hot button topics, Ed!

Of course we all agree that art shouldn't be censored and that we need to stand up for freedom of expression. And I definitely don't believe that Muslims are violent or are terrorists, or any such nonsense (I dated a Muslim for 4 years, and he was neither).

unosocko said it best:

...after the London bombings I can understand why European governments have a weak backbone on “freedom of expression” I don’t agree with it but I understand.

That's all I meant.

1/31/2006 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I am not afraid of Muslims. I am afraid of fundamentalists of any stripe.

By the way, 'pc' we are talking about a museum in Germany. They have very good reason to be afraid of fundamentalism. as do we. Think of abortion bombings and Oklahoma city, two different sorts of the 'f' word, neither of them Muslim.

1/31/2006 02:41:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

That's all I wanted to say that artist or anyone else should have freedom of expression.
anynomous..........
yes i am offended, cause the statement says that threads by Muslims. The statements comes from official institution. I wasn't there, I didn't sign up for. Why and how would you include me in that statement?? I support art, artists, galleries. Everyone should have freedom of whatever they want to say, to show, to express etc.
As always I say "terrorist dont have a religion, they dont have face" So thatwould be wrong to blame entire religion.

1/31/2006 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

We have two examples of this work being attempted. Neither came to realization. Maybe it is part of the work? Do we know how the artist felt? He might have come closer to making his point this way than if it had gone forward.

His expression was not totally quashed.

just a thought . . .

1/31/2006 02:47:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

Tim said, "By the way, 'pc' we are talking about a museum in Germany. They have very good reason to be afraid of fundamentalism. as do we. Think of abortion bombings and Oklahoma city, two different sorts of the 'f' word, neither of them Muslim."

Tim, I was saying I feared all religions, and I was serious. But you are right, I fear fundamentalists of all stripes even more.

1/31/2006 03:20:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

Hey, aritists out there, would you do work that you were sure would offend Muslims in particular if you had a serious, not just provocative idea?

I had an idea that would have involved tearing up several religions' sacred texts and decided not to do it. I'm a timid soul and the thought of doing this project was scary enough to deter me. (For perspective, you also won't find me in my underwear in a video either.) So I'm a freedom of expression fundamentalist who would avoid offending. However, in contemplating this project, it was kind of thrilling to encounter a taboo.

1/31/2006 03:27:00 PM  
Anonymous jec said...

So I'm a freedom of expression fundamentalist who would avoid offending.

I'm with you, pc. I don't want to offend and am conflict-averse in general. No video of me in my underwear either.

1/31/2006 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

whoa...just back...lots going on, so this is not directed at anyone in particular, but I really have to agree with Bambino's central concern here.

Let me do so by emphasizing one belief I have here: the idea that because some Muslims have responded to objectionable ideas with violence, we should fear exhibitions like this, is IMO lazy reasoning.

For me it's a matter of math.

How many Muslims are we talking about here when we cite "precedents"? How many Muslims have personally committed acts of violence against others because of a radical belief in their religion? A thousand? Ten thousand? A hundred thousand?

Now, how many Muslims are there on the planet?

Recent estimates suggest 1.25 billion.

So, suggesting the thousand or ten thousand or even hundred thousand of radicals involved in violence represent what it means to be "Muslim" MORE than the other 1.24 billion Muslims do is mathematically illogical.

Moreover, to suggest that Khomeini, who may not be as evil as bin Laden, represents the will of the planet's 1.24 billion law-abiding Muslims (the vast majority of whom live in Asia, not the Middle East) is comparable to suggesting Bush (who may not be as evil as, say, Hitler) represents the will of the 1.9 billion Christians on the planet (the vast majority of whom do not live in the United States).

Again, not differentiating carefully is lazy thinking, and in that sense, as Bambino insists, offensive.

1/31/2006 03:59:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

More math: one or two people with bombs, or even guns, can do a lot of damage, regardless of their religious or political affiliations. I'm certainly not in favor of censorship, but I can also understand the safety concerns of the arts institutions.

1/31/2006 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

one or two people with bombs, or even guns, can do a lot of damage, regardless of their religious or political affiliations. I'm certainly not in favor of censorship, but I can also understand the safety concerns of the arts institutions.

Really? You can? I mean, I'm not even sure what their safety concerns are...do you have some inside information? Did somone threaten to do something specific? Something with a bomb or gun?

Or, are we becoming a society of people afraid of our own shadows? Fearful of the terrorist under every bed?

Yes the work is likely to stir controversy. Yes there has been violence by Muslims in Europe. Yes it's impossible for the authorities to guarantee 100% that the work will not lead some radicals to act out and hurt other people.

But the option is to endorse censorship. You say you don't favor it, but that's not the question. The question is whether you object to it. If you do, you have to take a stand when it happens.

Again, what happens when the objectionable display isn't a sculpture, but a movie or a style of clothing? How much do we allow the mere potential for violence to make us cower? At a certain point such cowardice equals a victory for the terrorists.

1/31/2006 04:41:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

My mistake. I somehow got the impression from the long discussion that specific threats had been made. Rereading your post I see that they weren't. Lazy reading on my part.

1/31/2006 04:51:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

Edward said, "Let me do so by emphasizing one belief I have here: the idea that because some Muslims have responded to objectionable ideas with violence, we should fear exhibitions like this, is IMO lazy reasoning.

For me it's a matter of math."

This is absolutely true and I agree with it, but there's a little more to the story.We're talking about terrorism, which is nothing more than publicity in the service of irrational fear. Yet I think it's a little more than math and logic. It takes some bravery to take Edward's stance, which requires you to put aside your fear and conduct your business as if all this crap weren't in the paper all the time scaring the pants off eveyone. Edward's stance requires one to act rationally, and I'm all for it. But don't underestimate the difficulty of taking the high road. I said earlier that I wouldn't show work that would offend, and I'm not proud of it. It's irrational and based on Fox News fear. So although I completey support Edward's point of view, I probably can't follow through with it as completely as I'd like to. I don't know the answer to the problem of irrational fear except to ignore it.

1/31/2006 04:53:00 PM  
Anonymous pc said...

Clarification of my last sentence: Ignore fear, that is, not the problem.

1/31/2006 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

We're talking about terrorism, which is nothing more than publicity in the service of irrational fear.

Yes, and caving in to it is letting the terrorists win.

One of the most hopeful things I ever saw was the way that millions of Spainards took to the streets just after the Madrid bombings...sending a very clear message to the terrorists that they would not live in fear. These folks had lived under fear in the form of Franco's dictatorship, and they were NOT going back to those dark days.

I'm not sure it takes courage actually. It takes self-respect mostly.

Most gay people I know, many of whom have had to risk being beaten up just to be themselves, are very much against the fearmongering coming out of Washington. For many of us, a life worth living has always involved risk.

Yes, you might be killed by terrorists, but what's the option? Sitting in a bunker somewhere?

Support the reasonable measures the government suggests to make things reasonably safe, but understand this: there is NOTHING they can do to make you 100% safe... NOTHING ...so where you let them draw the line is a matter of choice.

I'd rather draw this line this side of censorship myself. YMMV.

1/31/2006 05:09:00 PM  
Anonymous bambino said...

Ed I have to thank you for this post. And I'll talk to you at home later. You are in trouble :P

1/31/2006 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

why am I in trouble????

by the way, I realize my last comment suggests the government is censoring that exhibition...there's no evidence of that...I mean that in a general sense censorship...either from government or institutional authorities...is something I'd rather not support in the name of trying to be more safe. The truth is the terrorists don't really need any more excuses...they have plenty already, so curbing how we live to mitigate the risk is foolish to me.

1/31/2006 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

Or, are we becoming a society of people afraid of our own shadows?

No, we are becoming, in the case of the US at least, a society afraid of the repurcussions of doing many things that are thought to be risky even if there is no stastistical proof of that risk. many parents don't allow their children to walk to school or to the playground or even be home alone not because there is a higher likelihood of kidnapping, but because of the fear that they will be seen as bad parents if lightning does strike.

My bet, this was the museum's lawyers talking. This museum listened to their lawyers rather than their guts and decided that the prevailing wisdom, "You should have known that type of art would incite Muslims, look at what happened when Koran desecration was reported.", was too mainstream to ignore and that anything, any little thing that could be tied back to that exhibition could be called, what, maybe incitement to riot and could get the museum sued. As usual, it's not about safety, it's about money, whether it's a museum protecting it's donations or Exxon protecting it's profits.

1/31/2006 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

Some additional food-for-thought:

February 21, 2004: World Briefing | Europe: Norway: Swastika Art Removed

January 27, 2006: Art seizure fuels fire

&c.

1/31/2006 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

We don't know there were no threats. You are assuming that because they have not said so then there weren't any.

All the theorizing in the world would mean nothing if you were confronted with the possibility of your actions causing the deaths of anyone. If you received a real threat that you could assuage by not acting then it would be arrogant and stupid to go ahead in the name of free speech.

You are not being brave or principaled to risk others lives in the name of freedom of speech.

Besides, we are not talking about speech here, you know. The law does make a distinction between speech and actions. I wish I understood that point better, I think it is relevant here.

But, it has nothing to do with Muslims and everything to do with what really happened, which we don't know.

1/31/2006 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

No, Tim, we don't know.

{{{And originally I had another snarky response here, but thought better of it. I can snark on the political blogs to keep my teeth sharp.}}}

My non-snarky opinion is that if there were a real threat, the authorities would have shared that information with the artist as a means of explaining to him why they reversed their decision. And if that were the case, Dr. Blume wouldn't have openly dissed the artist to cover the reversal.

1/31/2006 08:13:00 PM  
Anonymous crionna said...

You know, it occurs to me that being a self-declared non-homophobic heterosexual (SDNHH) is a lot like being a Muslim who abhors the radical Muslims in the world. There's really very little one can do except say "I abhor that behavior from those people" because to their/our disappointment so many institutions, governmental, religious*, etc. do not support equal rights. So, were I a homosexual I might feel justified in saying,"fine, you're not a homophobic bigot, but it'd be nice if the leadership of some large representative group would acknowledge the same thing", in the same way many non-Muslims say "fine, you abhor the acts of radical Muslims but it'd be nice if more than just a few imam's offered fatwas against such radicalness". Unfortunately, without those pronouncements from the leadership of large groups there will always be doubts about everyone except those you know fairly well personally. Count me as one that finally understands...as much as I can say I understand, being heterosexual and Christian. Perhaps only a homosexual Muslim can understand both sides.

*Then again, there is still hope for us ELCA Lutherans in 2007

1/31/2006 08:28:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Ed Sed:

{{{And originally I had another snarky response here, but thought better of it. I can snark on the political blogs to keep my teeth sharp.}}}

Tim replies:

{[(my rejoinder would have killed)]}

1/31/2006 11:01:00 PM  
Anonymous sock, the prequel said...

Wahooo ther crionna. DO you write for the Gilmore Girls? Them some wordy words you wordin'. ::}]--:

1/31/2006 11:21:00 PM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Greetings from the debris piles of New Orleans!

For those who might be interested, I've published my final sermon response to this post on my blog - http://blackcatbone.blogspot.com/2006/01/murdering-bastards-in-china-arent.html

It's long and I didn't want to hog Edward's bandwidth.

Again, Edward, I greatly appreciate you bringing this discussion forward. Your blog should be nominated for a Pulitzer...and I mean that.

James

P.S. For the record, most of the terrorists walking the streets in New Orleans these days appear to be white Christian males sporting t-shirts that say F.E.M.A. We understand it means Fix Everthing My Ass! :)

2/01/2006 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger k said...

I don’t know about anyone else, but watching the film The War Within has given me a new perspective on terrorism against the United States, especially from a possible terrorist’s point of view. Whether the subject in the film is forced into it through brutal imprisonment or through conscience decisions the film gives a point of view rarely seen in the United States.

2/01/2006 01:02:00 PM  
Anonymous jec said...

I've been thinking about this thread since yesterday, and Ed, when you're right, you're right. Thanks for bringing this up and sticking to your guns. I, for one, feel a little differently about things.

Just ran across a post on a political blog regarding cartoons that were published in a newspaper in Denmark:

Why did Jyllands-Posten publish the cartoons? The Copenhagen Post explains: "Jyllands-Posten called for and printed the cartoons by various Danish illustrators, after reports that artists were refusing to illustrate works about Islam, out of fear of fundamendalist retribution. The newspaper said it printed the cartoons as a test of whether Muslim fundamentalists had begun affecting the freedom of expression in Denmark."

I'll try a link here: link

2/01/2006 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

thanks for bringing that up, Jec. I was totally encouraged by the German and French newspapers that reprinted it after the Danes foolishly apologized. The French and Germans' central reasoning (i.e., that freedom of expression includes freedom to spout blasphemy) is one I think the whole world, including Muslims and Christians alike, needs to be reminded of these days.

2/01/2006 06:48:00 PM  

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