Coming to a Head
This story broke a few days ago. It’s about one of the premiere opera houses in Berlin, the Deutsche Oper and it’s recent decision to cancel a running of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” (incidentally, written when he was only 24. You can read about more about it on wiki).
Part of the plot of this opera (which was apparently changed from the original) included, as set pieces, the severed heads of Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Muhammad. The reasoning cited was that the image of the severed head of Muhammad causes an “incalculable security risk”. The theater decided to not rerun “Idomeneo”, which is standard opera repertoire, in November of 2006 to “avoid endangering it audience and employees”.
It goes without saying that the image of Muhammad is singled out as the sole “security risk”. It is not, of course, without merit. In September of 2005, a Dutch newspaper’s article that included (apparently) upsetting images of Muhammad sparked quite the world-wide controversy accompanied by Muslim riots. What I find quite peculiar is that in a hugely Christian population, no one was really concerned about the ramifications of portraying the severed head of Jesus Christ or Buddha. Of course, it has been awhile since a large Christian mass got together for the sake of destroying something (aka the Crusades), and, to my knowledge, the Buddhist’s have kept mainly to themselves.
I bring up the stories of this opera and the Dutch newspaper to make a point that we all have heard before in elementary school and elsewhere: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. Ever since the start of “The War On Terror”, mainstream and extremist Islamic groups alike have likened the War on Terror to a War on Islam. While this may be up to some valid debate, I cannot say I fully understand the reasoning behind being so sensitive to one groups sensibilities, likes, and dislikes.
The point of terrorism is in the name itself; the more fear one group can instill into another group equates rather quickly to control of the fearful group. This is a prime example. Since 9/11, the world has been afraid of offending Muslim and Islamic peoples and nations to the point where the arts, a relatively politics-free segment of society, have to be stifled, controlled, and otherwise censored in order to avoid “endangering its audience and employees”. On any given episode of Comedy Central’s “South Park”, or Fox’s “Family Guy”, or any number of other television programs, Jesus Christ and/or God can be portrayed in a less-than biblical light. Revolution Studios’ film Anger Management (2003) has the following line about Buddha: “How does a fat guy have the balls to preach about self restraint?”.
To my knowledge, the creators, writers, producers, or promoters of these shows didn’t take into account Christian or Buddhist sentiments before releasing these shows. Of course, it’s been a few hundred years since the Crusades and, to my knowledge, the Buddhist have never staged a large-scale violent opposition to anything.
My largely unanswered question is this: Where will we draw the line? At what point will we say “Enough is enough” and “if you don’t like it, don’t go see it”? I truly fail to see the logic of changing our society to assuage the every passing whim of socially insecure people (I’m not calling all Muslims socially insecure, but those who would cry about cartoons and opera have self-image problem, I think). It’s not like there’s political oppression of Muslims in the country; no one is proposing laws to restrict Muslim or Islamic peoples from voting or participating in politics in this country. There’s no hint of religious oppression, either; it’s still legal to open up a Mosque on any street corner in any city in this country today just as it was prior to 9/11.
It’s like the old saying goes: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. In this case, the “oil” is our willingness to give into fear of being politically incorrect to the point of canceling an opera. The DaVinci Code, both the book and the movie, suggest something that most Christians would denounce as heresy and pure lies, yet both have done very well in their respected media despite the (rather short-lived) controversy. This story, too, will fade rather quickly; however, the precedent it sets will linger on for quite sometime.
Censorship by fear is a slippery slope we have begun to slide down, and unless things change rather quickly, there will be no stopping the quick decent into a total stifling of free speech and the arts.