Berlin Opera Flap Brings Cries of Self-Censorship
"The cancellation of four performances of a Mozart opera has reignited an anxious and heated debate in Europe over free speech, self-censorship and Islam," reports EITB, the Spanish news service.
"Debate" may not be the right word, because virtually nobody in the international online media supports the cancellation.
The story took off Tuesday when a Berlin opera troop took an avant-garde version of Mozart's "Idomeneo" off its schedule after a "risk analysis" produced by Germany's Office of Criminal Investigation concluded that "the possibility of performances being disrupted cannot be ruled out." In one scene, an actor brandishes severed heads of Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha and Poseidon, leading to fears of violent protests.
The cancellation has inspired what PostGlobal blogger Thomas Kleine of Germany calls "unfamiliar unanimity," with German and British Muslims echoing the growing calls of numerous German officials for reinstatement of the performances.
"Here we go again," said Flemming Rose, culture editor of Denmark's Jyllands-Posten paper, which met a storm of Muslim protest after publishing satirical cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad last year.
"This is exactly the kind of self-censorship I and my newspaper have been warning against," he told Aljazeera.net.
Rose said bowing to fears of a violent Muslim reaction would only worsen the problem: "You play into the hands of the radicals. You are telling them: your tactics are working. This is a victory for the radicals. It's weakening the moderate Muslims who are our allies in this battle of ideas."
Three leading European dailies denounced the decision, according to a BBC press survey.
The cancellation is so absurd said Die Presse in Vienna, that "even left-wing politicians, church officials who enthuse about dialogue and well-meaning multiculturalists" may have discovered the truth about "the so-called 'dialogue' between Islam and the West."
Such dialogue, said the centrist daily, is "an intellectual game of blackmail" in which representatives of Islam tell the West "what may and what must not be written, performed or drawn."
In Britain, the leftist Guardian said the cancellation was "simultaneously understandable and reprehensible... a dangerous act of self-censorship at odds with the principles of liberal democracy and artistic expression."
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," notes Marcel Fürstenau of the German broadcast network Deutsche Welle. "In other words, there is not the slightest reason to resort to self-censure of this nature," he wrote. "Anyone who chooses to make such a decision clearly has a disturbed relationship to art and the freedom of speech - the elixirs of an enlightened society."
In Spiegel Online, essayist Henryk M. Broder called the cancellation "a shocking example of pre-emptive surrender: At this point, it seems, terrorists don't even need to issue a specific threat in order to intimidate us."
So far, the discussion is almost entirely confined to the West. One Turkish Muslim leader welcomed the cancellation, according to Islam Online. Otherwise, the story has attracted news coverage in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, but generated little online commentary in the Muslim world.
On the question of whether the opera should be performed, the West seems to be having a debate with itself. And it looks like the show might go on.
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