September 26, 2006

After the pope, now Mozart?

Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian prime minister and prominent statesman of Germany in the Nineteenth century said
"An appeal to fear never finds an echo in German hearts".
However, this is the twenty first century and the world is ridden by the new fear, offending the Muslims and its consequences. A Berlin opera house proved Bismarck wrong by imposing self-censorship on the performance of the Mozart opera Idomeneo fearing an attack by Islamists. Receiving a security alert from police, the Deutsche Oper, one of the Berlin's three Opera houses cancelled the Idomeneo shows starting from November 4, 2006.

The opera is set in ancient Greece after the Trojan War and tells about the human resistance to making sacrifices to the gods. The production by Hans Neuenfels premiered in 2003 and drew widespread criticism over a scene in which King Idomeneo presents the severed heads not only of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, but also of Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha. The disputed scene is not part of Mozart's original staging of the 225-year-old opera, but was an addition of Neuenfels' production, which was last performed by the company in March 2004. (source)

Scene from "Idomeneo" during a rehearsal in 2003: King Idomeneo (played by Charles Workmann) places the severed heads of the Prophet Muhammad on a chair next to the head of Buddha. (Picture courtesy Der Spiegel)

The German government and the main political parties condemned the decision but the Opera house defended it citing the consequences of Danish Cartoon protests.

We now look at how the protests in the Muslim world take place taking Bangladesh as example. During the Cartoon controversy this February, I was in Dhaka and witnessed how political Islam forces people to act on their tune. After the recent Pope speech controversy, CNN published a photo of a Bangladeshi boy protesting, who might be part of a 300 man strong procession. But do they represent roughly 118 million Muslims in the country as the media claimed? Does they really pose a threat to the freedom of speech of a person quite distant from the place of protest?

Andrew Morris writes about the Bangladeshi Muslims:
I watch with increasing despair the portrayal of Muslims in the mainstream Western media. Armchair commentators, many of whom have never lived in a Muslim culture, fulminate about the Muslim threat, basing their entire conception of the religion on a few cardboard cut-out figures. Whose purposes does this tension serve?

Here`s another perspective, from a place where for the vast majority of the population, Islam is part of the home, the street and the village. Where it`s a lived religion, not just a media construct. And you know what? Like all religions played out from day to day, it`s pretty uneventful. It`s not an ideology: it exists in the commitment of minuscule acts of human friendship. It works through and around individuals. It offers a seasonal catalogue of festivals to mark the passing of the months. It provides, in short, the whole background to the grind and flow of daily life. Islam here is in the air, but not in your face.

Of course you can observe the religion at work in people`s appearance too - in the generally modest dress worn by women, although saris or salwar kameezes are actually more expressions of culture and climate than faith. And in the loose robes, beards and skull caps worn by more devout men: although again these are actually a small minority: most men preferring western dress.

But the picture is neither uniform nor static: there are also plenty who don`t go to pray. I have a number of friends who are avowedly secular and even anti-clerical. All in all it`s a pretty laid-back place, where you practise at a level of your own choosing, not dictated to by the imposition of orthodox or fundamentalist belief.

Nothing extreme then. Nothing to be alarmist about. The media is obsessed with those who preach and proclaim the `truth` of Islam, and concentrates on the outlandish personalities, the orthodoxies, the narrow interpretations, the perceived `mediaevalism` and `inflexibility` of the faith. But all that is a long way from people`s experience here, as they go about their daily lives, looking out for each other, complaining about the government, dodging cars, getting food on the table and kids into school.

I for one am convinced that none of the people I know and love here have the slightest inclination to destroy our civilisation, as the media would have us believe. They have far more important things to be getting on with..."
These you will not find in any international media.

So where does the fear come from? The Saudi blogger "Religious policeman" wrote ironically about the Muslim offense level indicator. His every words came true as the world continued to feed the trolls. This fear has to end somewhere. The media need to stop trying to hunt down lone lunatic from an African country who gave a fatwa against the pope. I mean what is it worth? It is probably his right to speak as Pope had the right to speak his mind (whether or not he was right that is another issue). And the world is gauging a religion with the yardstick of few political parasites and Lunatics.

Der Spiegel writes:
Militant Islamists will always find something. But the response needs to be firm. Freedom of speech, after all, is a vital value and needs to be defended.
The world needs courage to fight the fear, otherwise it will give away the peoples' livelihoods to the wills of a few terrorists and power hungry politician veiled with religion.

"Fear is a disease that eats away at logic and makes man inhuman."


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