The Playgoer: Muhammad Axed

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Muhammad Axed

A revisionist production of Mozart's Idomeneo is being yanked from the repertory at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin (a big deal) due to a scene purported to feature the beheading of Muhammad. Never mind the full context of the scene is described as: "King Idomeneo presents the severed heads not only of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon [as stipulated in the libretto] but also of Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha."

And never mind I still can't figure out what constitutes, objectively, an "image of Muhammad". That's another story.

Yes, we sympathize with the responsibility the Deutsche Oper feels over the possibility of terror attacks against operagoers and artists. But were such threats made and how serious?

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.

It seems to have been a preemptive move. One that--ironically--has suddenly manufactured the kind of controversy they were afraid the production would spark. Go figure.

One consolation is how much sensible criticism there is in Germany among high political and cultural figures over the decision. From the AP (via NYT):

''That is crazy,'' Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters in Washington, where he was holding meetings with U.S. officials. ''This is unacceptable.''...

[Then the pro-cancellation side is quoted.]

Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, however, said that ''with all understanding for the concern about the security of spectators and performers, I consider the decision of the director to be wrong.

''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.''

Bernd Neumann, the federal government's top cultural official, said that ''problems cannot be solved by keeping silent.''

''When the concern over possible protests leads to self-censorship, then the democratic culture of free speech becomes endangered.''

Openness tolerance and freedom must be lived on the offensive. I like that.

Even a German Muslim spokesman has a rational take:

The leader of Germany's Islamic Council welcomed the decision, saying a depiction of Muhammad with a severed head ''could certainly offend Muslims.''

''Nevertheless, of course I think it is horrible that one has to be afraid,'' Ali Kizilkaya told Berlin's Radio Multikulti. ''That is not the right way to open dialogue.''

Kind of bizarro-world to have so many public officials--even Muslims--feel comfortable coming out against such panic-censorship.

(Hat tip, Chris S.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was curious if you would pick up on this. I'm really disappointed about the decision by the Deutsche Oper. It's supposed to be one of the most renowned, but apparently a backbone and some courage aren't required when you're artistic director. She was on TV last night, and it was obvious that she had never expected such an outcry by the public and the politicians. I'm especially glad that the politicians protest, though - it's an unexpected surprise.