Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Idemeneo and the Poltroons

Kirsten Harms, the director of the Deutsche Oper, has decided to cancel performances of Mozart’s Idomeneo, lest Muslims be offended at a scene in which the King of Crete holds aloft the decapitated heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad. Frau Harms proceeds on the fairly safe assumption that any offence that may be taken is unlikely to end in pagans running riot, Christians menacing directors, or Buddhists firing Kalashnikovs into the air in a ritual of practiced malevolence. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,
The decision is based on a general threat-analysis by the State Office of Criminal Investigation, not on threats against Charlottenburger Haus in general or the production in particular. [1]
In other words, before the Mohammedans have even had the time to whet their knives or sharpen their damnations, the poltroons of the West are grovelling for their pardon. No specific threat is required. The mere presence of the Mohammedans is felt to be enough. A similar thing happened last year, when Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great was expurgated of remarks and scenes derogatory of Mohammed. [2] Signs of things to come, perhaps. [3]
[1] “Schäuble wünscht sich ‘deutsche Muslime’”, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 27th September 2006. [“Der Entschluß basiert auf einer allgemeinen Gefährdungsanalyse des Landeskriminalamts, nicht auf Drohungen gegen das Charlottenburger Haus im allgemeinen oder die Inszenierung im besonderen.”]
[2] See Dalya Alberge, “Marlowe’s Koran-burning hero is censored to avoid Muslim anger”, The Times, 24th November 2005.
[3] Update: In the end, the unexpurgated production went ahead, along with “airport-style security checks”, while “plainclothes police mingled with the audience”, and “[d]og teams checked out the aisles and foil sheets were stuck to windows in order to make them shatterproof.” Roger Boyes, “A fright at the opera: champions of Mozart brave cultural divide”, The Times, 19th December 2006.


dearieme said...

The doctrine of pre-emption triumphs again.

Anonymous said...

How did these decapitations get into Idomenmeo in the first place? They are not in the only version I know.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the cancellation will be revoked and this opera will be shown after all. What a great and shrewd publicity stunt the opera house made by first announcing the cancellation. Usually hardly anybody would be interested in that opera, but now it is the talk of the town.

I think I am in a very small minority in Germany who approved of the cancellation. That opera is an insult to other religions (since it shows the severed heads of Jesus and Buddha as well) and to Mozart, the composer, himself.

What benefit would we get if we had this opera? It seems the only reason to defend this stupid opera is to avoid giving the impression of appeasement to the Islamofascists. That's not enough for me. I think this opera would only strengthen Islamofasicsm since it would help their propaganda. To win the war on terrorism, we need to have moderate Muslims on our side, so that they don't support the terrorists, but give us information about them. And we want the moderate Muslims to win over their autocratic governments and fundamentalist groups in the Arab world. This opera, however, alienates the moderate Muslims and helps the fundamentalists.

Let's not forget that theater plays critical of Christians and Israel also get canceled. Earlier this year:
"A New York theatre company has put off plans to stage a play about an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza because of the current "political climate" - a decision the play's British director, Alan Rickman, denounced as "censorship"."

I am not a fan of Rachel Corrie. Not at all. However, if one criticizes the canellation of the Mozart opera for fear of offending Muslimes, then one should also criticize the canceling of that play for fear of offending supporters of Israel..

"On May 23, 1998, the New York Times announced that the Manhattan Theatre Club would be canceling its scheduled production of playwright Terrence McNally's newest play, Corpus Christi, due to bomb and death threats made against the theatre, its personnel, and the playwright. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights disavowed responsibility for the threats but did publicly applaud the decision, calling the play "blasphemous.""

When Corpus Christi was shown in Germany in 2000, there have been death threats and bomb threats as well:

Thus it could very well be that the threats against the "Idomeneo" opera are not only coming from Muslims, but from Christians, who don't like to see the severed head of Jesus... Having said that: The concern about attacks from Muslims is bigger.

Greetings from Berlin,
My blog: The Atlantic Review, A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni

Anonymous said...

And we want the moderate Muslims to win over their autocratic governments and fundamentalist groups in the Arab world

There seem to be two issues: whether the work of art is of merit and whether the work of art is likely to offend Muslims.

It is dangerous to say that we ought to allow offence if the work of art meets some kind of merit criteria, but not if it falls short. Is the artistic merit of "Piss Christ" or the collected works of Marilyn Manson" high enough to outway the offense caused? Who is to decide if it is good enough?

I don't think that we ought to conflate the issues. The same argument was used in the cases of "Submission" and the Danish cartoons. I think it provided a bogus cover to people who were unable to come right out and excuse the curtailment of free speech. Posterity should decide what has merit or not, and not some safety committee.

I particular find weak the contention that moderate Muslims are going to be won over if we do what the extremists want. You don't win respect by seeking to prostrate yourself.

Anonymous said...

Rachel Corrie

One theatre not showing a play does not amount to censorship nor even fear of reprisals, particularly when that same show is currently running in several other locations within the western world and is due to start in New York in October. The New York Theatre Workshop is famed for producing left wing agitprop works that strongly criticise the government and the west. At the time the theatre director asked for a delay but before he got a reply, Alan Rickman appeared in the press denouncing censorship. This was repeated by the New York Times, Guardian, Daily Kos et al. This seems to me to be a complete overreaction that morphed into a conspiracy theory. I have seen no evidence of Jewish threats. Why is it that Jews are assumed to have some special power to control events that is unavailable or unused by everyone else?

And if Jews really did have the control they are accused of, please explain why we see no plays showing Rachel Corrie as a tool of Hamas?

Deogolwulf said...

"How did these decapitations get into Idomenmeo in the first place? They are not in the only version I know."

Later additions, apparently.

Bob said...

To win the war on terrorism, we need to have moderate Muslims on our side...

Right. Getting both those guys on board will certainly help.

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