Friday, September 29, 2006

Free Speech, Europe and Islam.

This week, Europe has faced some serious anxiety over the issues of free speech, self-censorship and Islam. First, the Berlin opera decided to cancel an avant-garde version of Mozart's "Idomeneo" because of Islamic threats. As can be expected, that caused uproar in Germany and throughout Europe. It also united the media and the politicians in a call for the reinstatement of the show.

The scene at the heart of the “non-controversy” shows Ideomeneo, King of Crete, enter the stage carrying a blood-covered bag. He turns to the audience laughing and triumphantly reveals the decapitated heads of religious icons: first Poseidon, next Jesus, then Buddha and finally the Prophet Mohammed.

I have seen it on television and it is not very impressive.

As Deutsche Welle notes (via Wash. Post):

The scene at the heart of the (non)-controversy "is generally critical of religion, yet not in any way exclusively critical of, or hostile to, Islam,".

It must be said that Mozart never wrote any such scene but while it may lack multicultural sensitivity, there’s been agreement in the West that the cancellation may set a dangerous precedent.

It seems that the problem has to do with some Muslim extremists outside Europe. While some world Muslims protested against the performance, German Muslims did not.

So what triggered the whole thing? Was it some Fatwa by some foreign Mullah? No, it was apparently some “anonymous tipster who called the police and threatened the leadership of the opera.” Was that all? I have not found information that there is more to it.

For the Berlin Opera's CEO the tip was credible enough to take Ideomeneo off the show plan for the fall.

That’s it? So a moron can call and make threats and you immediately bend? Well, it’s going to be party time for all the psychos around us.

The second incident involves a French philosophy teacher who is now under police protection after receiving death threats over an op-ed article which he wrote in a national newspaper. In the article (published in the conservative daily Le Figaro), he accused Islam of "exalting violence.". He was writing in response to the angry reactions of the Islamic world to the Pope’s lecture two weeks ago.

According to the FT, in his article entitled “Faced with Islamic intimidation, what should the free world do?” he attacked the Prophet Mohammed, saying:

“Pitiless war leader, pillager, butcher of Jews and polygamous, this is how Mohammed is revealed by the Koran.”

FT also adds that the philosophy teacher has "earned a reputation for his outspoken anti-Islam views", which I find very odd for a “philosophy” teacher. Not much, “philosophical” distance there, and anyone could have expected strong reactions in the Muslim world. It seems to me that he wanted to ignite a fire, he could have not done better.

That being said, in a free society, it should his right to do that. It is his absolute right to express offensive opinions and even idiotic ones. The very fact that Tunisia and Egypt have banned the editions of the French paper Le Figaro and Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is a great sign of the rift between the Muslim world and the Western world. Well, let me rephrase this, between non-European Muslims and the West. It is my understanding that European Muslims take a different approach to the issue.

But more than the ban, it is the death threats that should be our concern. What I wonder is how credible those threats may be? Was it an anonymous phone call to the police? Letters? Was it some terrorist group? I haven’t found any info on that.

However scary those different threats may be, the idea that we surrender our basic freedoms (as in Germany) to them is extremely disturbing. (at the time, it easy to say from the comfort of my anonymous chair!)

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