What happens when art that offends people of a particular religion is displayed? Let’s do a comparative look. First, the Christians, in an article headlined, “Christians Mull Offensive Art Works”.
The inclusion of two provocative entries in Australia’s most prestigious religious art competition has again highlighted the issue of distasteful art and Christians’ reaction to it.
Critics ranging from Prime Minister John Howard to church leaders have questioned the appropriateness of the two exhibits — one depicting the Virgin Mary wearing an Islamic burqa, and another, a holographic image of al-Qaeda terror chief Osama bin Laden morphing into an image of Jesus Christ.
The works, submitted for a 55-year-old annual award called the Blake prize, are on display at a taxpayer-funded gallery in Sydney. Howard has called them “gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians.”
“Regrettably, attempts to insult Jesus and Mary have become common in recent years, even predictable,” said the country’s most senior Catholic leader, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney.
“Too often it seems that the only quality which makes something ‘art’ is the adolescent desire to shock,” he said. “If this is the best the Blake prize can do, it has probably outlived its usefulness.”
The chairman of the Blake prize, the Rev. Rod Pattenden, said in a statement it seemed that “a real nerve” had been hit.
“I have received several angry phone calls from people claiming religious allegiance who have expressed themselves with clear hatred and violence towards other religious groups,” said Pattenden, a minister in the Uniting Church, a liberal Protestant denomination.
Mulling, questioning, and even some angry phone calls over this sort of art.
Let’s look at the history of another religion.
The drawings show the head of a turbaned man attached to the body of a dog, in front of various settings including a football goal.
The publication, in the newspaper Nerikes Allehanda, came after several galleries had refused to display the drawings, apparently for fear of violent retaliation from offended Muslims.
Early last year, violent demonstrations erupted throughout the Muslim world after the publication in Denmark of 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed which were also deemed blasphemous.
“Alongside the picture, we published a comment piece saying that it was serious that there is self-censorship among exhibition [galleries],” said the Nerikes Allehanda editor-in-chief, Ulf Johansson.
Last weekend, a small gathering of protestors gathered outside the newspaper’s offices to demonstrate against the cartoon’s publication.
That was followed this Monday by Iran summoning Sweden’s chief diplomat in Teheran to express its own outrage. Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has blamed “Zionists” for the images but said he would not hold the Swedish people responsible.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said that Sweden’s charge d’affaires had promised his government “shared the views of the Muslim community and termed the publication as unfortunate”.
In Stockholm, the Swedish foreign ministry said it now considered the matter closed.
But last year’s violent protests over the Danish cartoons has showed that initially little noticed drawings can eventually prompt widespread anger.
Yes, well, more than just “widespread anger”; over 100 people died. This particular situation has become an international incident, and it’s working, since some places are afraid to display them.
Both situations — the Christian one and the Muslim one — are equal in that they offend some people of a particular religion and, in my view, also equal in that they should not be banned. I don’t think public money should be financing them (and I have no evidence that they are), but banning insults is, to me, a slippery-slope freedom-of-speech issue.
But there is self-censorship happening in the case of art insulting Islam, not because of any sense of tact or taste (unfortunately), but because of the fear of what its adherents might do. For many, it’s not OK to insult Islam because they might kill us if we do. Far too many folks who stand up for freedom of speech or for the arts are more than willing to throw out those principles before the angry mob show up. The “religion of peace” does not have a very good record at handling insults peaceably, with mulling and phone calls.
Obligatory disclaimer: Yes, I’m fully aware that a majority of Muslims don’t take up arms over cartoons. But the point is, so many do, and so many Christians or Jews don’t, that to the observer of these events, Islam does seem more violent than others.
Is Islam in need of a reformation?
Technorati Tags: Christianity, Islam, Muslims, John Howard, Osama bin Laden, Jesus, Blake prize, Cardinal George Pell, Rev. Rod Pattenden, Nerikes Allehanda, Mohamed, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Austrailia, Pakistan, Sweden