Jewish World Review Feb. 5, 2003 / 3 Adar I, 5763
First Amendment frauds in Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park -- the city's main theater -- has announced that it is canceling a scheduled tour of a 50-minute play called "Paradise" after the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) voiced strong protest. The play follows the lives of Ayat al-Akhras, a character modeled on the 18-year-old Palestinian suicide bomber who blew herself up in Jerusalem last March, and one of her victims Rachel Levy, a 17-year-old Israeli high-school senior.
Glyn O'Malley, the playwright, screened a reading of the play before an audience that included a Majed Dabdoub, an engineer. Dabdoub brought ten other Muslims to the reading and afterward confronted on O'Malley in outrage, objecting to how the play portrayed Palestinians, branding it "anti-Islam." One of the Muslims present, according to O'Malley, ranted that suicide bombing was the equivalent of America's "Give me liberty or give me death."
According to the New York Times, Dabdoub alleged that the play stereotyped Muslims when it showed the Palestinian girl putting on a head covering (a hijab) before she set out to explode herself. "Why are we focusing on this? What is the message? To promote hatred?" he told the Times.
Catholics asked similar questions and expressed similar outrage three and a half years ago in New York when the Brooklyn Museum of Art featured an exhibit "Sensation", that included a painting of a black Virgin Mary smeared in elephant dung. When then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani clashed with the Museum over funding, Manhattan's cultural elite rushed to the museum's defense. First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams stepped in on behalf of the museum and immediately enlisted the support of groups like the New York chapter of the ACLU, activists like actress Susan Sarandon, and the editorial boards of most national newspapers. "There's a simple solution for those who object to the exhibition: Don't go to see it," sniffed an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.
The mayor's plan to freeze the museum's funds was written off as political pandering that eviscerated artistic expression. Cries of censorship were heard from the art houses of Manhattan to the coffee shops of San Francisco. Catholics were told to get over it. Art is supposed to offend, to make us think, to elicit a range of emotions. The "Sensation" exhibit was a huge hit, the talk of the town. The cultural elite won another round and the Catholic critics were written off as "narrow-minded."
But not so with the Muslims who took offense to the play "Paradise" in Cincinnati. Not only did they get the play's school tour cancelled, they have succeeded in convincing O'Malley to redraft the play, presumably to make it more "balanced." (There will be another public reading of the play later this month.) Although the writers' group PEN and the Dramatists Guild of America sent letters to protest the play's cancellation, there was nothing like the outrage expressed when the Brooklyn Museum was under fire. Where is Floyd Abrams? Where is the ACLU? Where is Sarandon?
Of course theirs is a transparently selective outrage. Artistic expression that denigrates American symbols (the flag dunked in a toilet) or Christianity (the crucifix dipped in urine) is celebrated, protected and paid for by taxpayers. But artistic expression that sheds light on modern day evil (suicide bombing) by a politically trendy group (Palestinians) is trampled upon. First Amendment crusaders are either absent or offer only a mild rebuke to Cincinnati for caving in to outside pressure. More to the point, in Brooklyn Museum case, Giuliani did not try to shut down the exhibit entirely. He just didn't want the taxpayers to pay for it. In Cincinnati, we see a case of what most liberals would consider real-life censorship.
Message to Christians: if you're offended, get over it. Message to Muslims: we feel your pain, and we'll make you feel better, even it requires censorship.
SCRAP THE SCRAP THE SHUTTLE MINDSET
"We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights
and more shuttle crews and yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more
teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys
continue." -- Ronald Reagan (1/28/86).
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