Exhibit Closed in Berlin
In September 2006, a Berlin opera house temporarily canceled a production of Mozart's Idomeneo because it included the severed head of the Prophet Muhammed. Earlier this week, in the same city, a satirical art exhibit containing a picture of the Kaaba with an irreverent caption was closed. In both cases, the closures were due to concerns over possible violent retaliation from angry Islamists. However, as Der Spiegel explains, there is a crucial difference between these two incidents:
...Whereas the mere spectre of possible attacks was enough to get the Deutsche Oper to put the kibosh on a Mozart opera in 2006, Berlin's Galerie Nord closed its doors this week after a group of Muslims walked into the gallery and threatened staff with violence.
"It was a very explosive situation," Jan Egesborg, whose satirical art group Surrend created the Galerie Nord exhibition, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We don't want to be part of the current Islamophobic tendency in Europe. We weren't trying to provoke Muslims."
The exhibition, called "ZOG -- Surrend," opened last Friday and was scheduled to run until the end of March. Conceived by the controversial Danish satirical art group, it included a picture of the black, cube-shaped Kaaba in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. Above the image, a headline read "Dumb Stone." Gallery manager Ralf Hartmann decided on Tuesday to shut down the show after six men believed to have been Muslims turned up demanding that the image be removed. The men reportedly threatened the staff with violence should they not comply.
Fortunately, it appears that the exhibit will proceed once additional security has been obtained:
The gallery is now in negotiations with the Berlin authorities in a bid to get 24-hour police protection, so that the exhibition can be re-opened, hopefully by Tuesday of next week. Egesborg said it was vital the exhibition continue. "If the radical Muslims are successful, then it means a mob can curate an exhibition in a museum," he said. "It would be dangerous for art in Europe, as it would give a good example of what threats can achieve."
In a free society, people have every right to criticize and even condemn expression they disagree with. What they are not allowed to do is threaten violence in order to silence viewpoints that offend them. Such a tactic strikes at the very heart of free expression, which is precisely why Islamists engage in it.