ONE DOES NOT HAVE TO LIKE or even appreciate this type of art to embrace the seriousness of the question before us today.
If Sooreh Hera had exhibited a series of photographs of homosexual men wearing masks of Jesus and the Apostle John, we could be almost certain that no one would be issuing death threats, nor would John Voll, associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, be pontificating about limits to free speech, but the media would instead be scowling with editorials about the dangers of censorship and the growing power of the Christian Right.
John Voll asks: “Can you imagine what would happen if John McCain used the n-word about Obama while campaigning? There are consequences. Free speech is not absolute.”
What would happen, Dr. Voll? Oh, that;s easy. We’ve been here before. Would McCain be executed? No. Murdered? Probably not. Threatened with death? Again, probably not. Jailed? No. Vilified in the national press? Certainly. Would he lose the election? Almost certainly.
And that’s the key difference. Sooreh Hera is being threatened with death, and the Dutch museum is kowtowing in the face of those threats, bowing to violent intimidation. If they declined to host her work because they found it tasteless and offensive, they would have a case. They have no obligation to host it. But Sooreh Hera should be free to exhibit it wherever she can find a place willing to do so, without having to hide behind a pseudonym and live in constant fear of being murdered. If McCain says something stupid that derails his campaign, Dr. Voll, that’s his loss, but it is not illegal to say that word, and should not be, and he should not have to live in fear of being killed if he were to say it.
I say in the article: “The ultimate goal of people making threats is to make it illegal or too dangerous or both for anybody to say anything considered to be insulting to Muhammad or Allah.” That is why everyone who does not wish to live under Sharia law should stand against violent intimidation from jihadists, wherever and whenever it manifests itself.
For the third time in four months, the controversial work of an Iranian artist has been suddenly yanked from a Dutch museum exhibition. The artist, who goes by the alias Sooreh Hera and who lives in exile in the Netherlands, said she received death threats after attempting to show her series of photographs entitled “Adam & Ewald, Seventh-Day Lovers.” Some of the photographs include depictions of the Prophet Muhammad and his son-in-law Ali in poses that would likely upset any believer in any religion. The most controversial images feature gay men posed in various stages of undress. In one, a man wears leather chaps with his buttocks exposed, wearing a mask of Ali, the son-in law of the prophet Muhammad. In other photo two men are shirtless wearing masks of both Ali (on the left) and Muhammad (on the right).
Museum directors initially planned to display the work of the 35-year-old artist. But now, citing fear of reprisals and political pressure, they’ve changed their mind, much to her dismay. Hera says she is fighting for freedom of speech and freedom of expression in a nation that once was known for its tolerance and peace, but now is a hotbed of religious and social tension.
“Freedom of expression has become an illusion in Europe,” she told FOXNews.com in a phone interview from a home where she is currently in hiding. “We think we have freedom of expression, but in fact we live under a sort of hidden censorship.”
But John Voll, associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, said Hera’s works cross the line and are offensive. He said freedom of speech does not mean that one has the freedom to be as insulting as possible. “It isn’t as if we have absolute freedom in the United States to be offensive and insulting just to be different,” Voll said in an interview. “Can you imagine what would happen if John McCain used the n-word about Obama while campaigning? There are consequences. Free speech is not absolute,” he said.
Hera said a fatwa, or religious pronouncement, of death has been issued for her as a result of her exhibit. “The fatwa was printed in the Iranian newspapers; they said they would kill me,” she told FOXNews.com, and saying she can’t go out now in public. She’s declined television interviews to answer her critics, and won’t even attend her own art exhibition.
“I will not be attending [Art Amsterdam] due to safety reasons,” she said. “It’s like being forbidden to go to your own wedding.” She said her work is a direct response to the threats made by radical Islamists against her and against the Dutch government, adding “I did this to answer the Iranian government. I made some new work. In one of these photos the deceased spiritual leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, is in leather trousers, half naked.”
She says the point of this is to expose the hypocrisy in Islam about homosexuality and to get everyone talking about the freedom of expression and speech in the Western world, “I’m hoping my work will arouse discussion. The thing that endangers the Netherlands is succumbing to fear and keeping silent about threats and not being alert in regard to freedom of expression. The Netherlands is very much a flashpoint right now. It looks as if there needs to be critical choices made about whether we’re going to defend our civilization or not.”
Author Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch says this sort of pressure by Muslim groups “who don’t hesitate to traffic in violent intimidation” will continue to undercut freedom of speech until it no longer exists. “The ultimate goal of people making threats is to make it illegal or too dangerous or both for anybody to say anything considered to be insulting to Muhammad or Allah, to impose the Islamic code, which is the goal of Osama bin Laden, upon the West,” he said. “It’s time to take a stand and say we believe in freedom of speech and that means some people will be offended.”