Back when Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to cut off municipal funds to the Brooklyn Museum for an exhibition that included, among other controversial works, a collage of the Virgin Mary made by Chris Ofili from pornographic magazine images and shellacked clumps of elephant dung, the NYTimes ran several columns defending the freedom of art to offend. This is from Michael Kimmelman’s Critic’s Notebook: Cutting Through Cynicism in Art Furor (NYT9/24//99): “In the end, there can be no underestimating the genuine pain that works like those in “Sensations” can cause people, most particularly Christians who may find the art world’s refined justifications for Mr. Ofili and his colleagues inadequate, if not callous. Roman-Catholics, Italian-Americans and white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, among others, sometimes argue that they are treated by artists as acceptable targets while certain other groups are taboo. And it is a fair question: would the defenders of art react the same if the offending image were of Rosa Parks rather than the Virgin Mary? But no race or issue is actually untouchable in the arts.”
And, a week later, the same Times Critic had this to say: “Mr. Ofili is playing with the ideas of blasphemy of worship, race and religion, toying in a gently ironic way with the space between public outrage and private expression to his own spiritual statement, which among other things, is not original.” (KimmelmanCritic’s Notebook 10/5/99) Other Times columnists and reporters during that time seized on the opportunity to chide Giuliani for his attempt to interfere with the free expression of artists, particularly in offensive ways, nothing that attacks on race and religion were considered permissible or protected speech in our society. So it is with rueful interest that we see the shift in the Times position when it comes to the bogus subject of Islamophobia. In its editorial, Free Speech vs Hate Speech (5/7/15), the Times concludes that the exhibition in Garland, Texas that precipitated the attempted murder by two Muslim terrorists “was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom…These two men were would-be murderers. But their thwarted attack, or the murderous rampage of the Charlie Hebdo killers, or even the greater threat posed by the barbaric killers of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, cannot justify blatantly Islamophobic provocations like the Garland event.” The Times felt differently about the inflammatory attempt to build a mosque at Ground Zero where the sensibilities of the families of 3,000 victims murdered in the name of Allah were involved, as well as those of first responders and New Yorkers who were traumatized by the attack upon our city and our nation. Then it felt that freedom of religion trumped all other concerns. Similarly, the Times has never had an editorial condemning the proliferation of Israel Apartheid Week on campuses throughout North America - events at which severe intimidation and death threats to Jews are routine occurrences. There again, academic freedom and freedom of speech are its primary concerns.
It’s no surprise to readers of the Times that the paper reserves its righteous indignation over freedom and discrimination for three sacred cows: the first is anything having to do with the LGBT lobby; second is anything involving racial issues, particularly if the victim is a young black male criminal; and third is its wholesale embrace of the position of CAIR, that Muslims in America suffer from this country’s bigotry, a position that has neither statistical back-up nor credibility, considering how many continue to emigrate to the U.S. Pamela Geller’s campaign is not against Muslims who respect their own faith without trying to impose its dictates on western culture. It is against the creeping attempt to project a policy of sharia onto a democracy that cannot tolerate or survive those intolerant restrictions. To reprise the words of the Times critic , would the paper react the same if what it calls hate speech were directed against Israel rather than Mohammed?
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