Thursday, September 28, 2006

Self-Censorship in Berlin

The Islamist war on intellectual freedom is not only directed against Muslim nations: it is designed to suppress free expression in the West as well. In light of the current "Muslim rage" surrounding Pope Benedict's recent comments, Daniel Pipes points out the following:

The violence by Muslims responding to comments by the pope fit a pattern that has been building and accelerating since 1989. Six times since then, Westerners did or said something that triggered death threats and violence in the Muslim world.

Pipes' count does not include violence directed solely at individuals, such as the November 2004 murder of Theo Van Gogh. Still, he notes the common thread of censorship tying these incidents together:

No conspiracy lies behind these six rounds of inflammation and aggression, but examined in retrospect, they coalesce and form a single, prolonged campaign of intimidation, with surely more to come. The basic message – "You Westerners no longer have the privilege to say what you will about Islam, the Prophet, and the Qur'an, Islamic law rules you too" – will return again and again until Westerners either do submit or Muslims realize their effort has failed.

Unfortunately, radical Islamism's "prolonged campaign of intimidation" has indeed produced results. The latest example comes from Germany:

A leading opera house canceled a 3-year-old production of Mozart's "Idomeneo" that included a scene showing the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad, unleashing a furious debate over free speech.

In a statement late Monday, the Deutsche Oper said it decided "with great regret" to cancel the production after Berlin security officials warned of an "incalculable risk" because of the scene.

After its premiere in 2003, the production by Hans Neuenfels drew widespread criticism over the scene in which King Idomeneo presents the severed heads not only of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, but also of Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha. The disputed scene is not part of Mozart's original staging of the 225-year-old opera, but was an addition of Neuenfels' production, which was last performed by the company in March 2004.

"We know the consequences of the conflict over the (Muhammad) caricatures," Deutsche Oper said its statement announcing the decision. "We believe that needs to be taken very seriously and hope for your support.

The most disturbing thing about the Deutsche Oper affair is that this was an act of preemptive self-censorship. The opera house's production of "Idomeneo" had yet to attract the attention of Islamist ideologues and professional grievance mongers. However, such is the impact of the previous Islamist campaigns against free expression that one anonymous threat was enough to persuade the Deutsche Oper to cancel its production.

One encouraging sign is that numerous German politicians have rightly condemned this decision as a capitulation. To quote the mayor of Berlin:

"Our ideas about openness, tolerance and freedom must be lived on the offensive. Voluntary self-limitation gives those who fight against our values a confirmation in advance that we will not stand behind them."

Hopefully, this affair will prompt a turning point in Europe's response to the Islamist war against free expression.


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