Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Freedom of Expression or Dhimmitude Rules?

In Germany today they are learning something: When you don't make Islamic groups live by the same rules as the rest of society, when they are not integrated into the culture, but allowed to form subcultures within the larger, then the rest of society will be effected by the special treatment.

In the West, religion has long been fair game for negative artistic expression. But, as we saw with the death of Theo Van Gogh, and again with the Danish cartoons about Muhammed, when local authorities don't forcefully come out to protect freedom of expression, and back down, it becomes a door opened a crack to let more happen. Thus the pope merely quoting an obscure medieval source, triggered a world-wide outcry, with far too few Western voices coming to his defence.

And now in Germany, an opera was closed, lest radical Islamic sensibilities would lead to violence "Berlin's Deutsche Oper said on Monday because of police warnings that it could cause "incalculable security risks."

It is actually pretty typical antireligious Western art, intended to attack all religious beliefs:

In the opera house's production of the Mozart work that was first shown in 1871, the Cretan King, Idomeneo holds up the severed heads of the Greek mythological figure Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed and places them on four chairs.
The production, by the director Hans Neuenfels, deals with man's reluctance to make sacrifices to the gods.
When his interpretation was first shown in 2003, it caused uproar among opera goers attending the performance.
Several religious groups said they were offended.
Critics described the work as a radical condemnation of religion and religious wars. (source)

But this time, the response has lead to a loud outcry in German political circles. German Chancellor Merkel said:
"We must take care that we do not retreat out of a fear of potentially violent radicals," in Hanover's Neue Presse newspaper. "Self-censorship out of fear is not tolerable."

The German government's Integration Commisioner Maria Boehmer said "We must together stand up against intolerance and violence."

Bernd Neumann, the government's culture minister: "If fears about possible protests result in self-censorship, then the democratic principles of free speech are in danger."

The outcry about the opera comes on the wake of the controversy about the Pope's quote, and as a conference to open dialogue with the country's 3.2 million Muslims, mostly of Turkish background begins today.

The meeting aims to tackle issues such as equal rights, the building of mosques, Islam lessons and imam training.

Integration has become a priority for the government as concern grows about the emergence of an underclass of disillusioned young Muslims, mainly Turks, in Germany and about fears of Islamic radicalization across Europe.

A recent outbreak of violence at a Berlin school where the bulk of pupils are immigrant children and last year's "honor killing" of a Turkish woman have highlighted the challenges faced by the government and Muslim communities. (source)

But reacting to the news about the opera being pulled from the performance schedule, Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German Interior Minister who has invited Muslim leaders to attend the conference in Berlin said "This is mad. Taking such measures is ridiculous and totally unacceptable."

Perhaps, then, Germany is ready to see if Western political rights will trump the increasingly strident calls for everybody, West and East, to live by the Islamic rules of how to refer to Muhammed. Will the free speech tradition in the West be forced into dhimmitude, or will we bow, from threat and intimidation, into something less for sake of expediency? There's a lot hanging on the outcome of such actions.


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