Saturday, December 03, 2005

This is going to be an interesting development.

Nation: A local artist John Lechner has entered into an art show at San Joaquin Delta College a piece called the Kalashnikov Jihad, a Kalashnikov gun wrapped in pages from the Koran. Muslim students are upset. Michael Fitzgerald writes about it.

"....Called "Kalashnikov Jihad," the work by local artist John Lechner is a life-sized ceramic Kalashnikov assault rifle wrapped in pages of flowing Arabic script from the Quran. The biting point of which, Lechner said, is "that religion is being used as weapon. That the loudest voices that we hear from the Islamic community are the terrorists and the radicals." That's been said before, but not using pages of the Quran, at least not at Delta. And a procession of mostly male, obviously perturbed, Muslim students marching through the gallery doesn't like it, said gallery director William Wilson. Many demand the artwork be taken down, some loudly, Wilson said. One interrupted Wilson's art talk. Another intruded upon a private business mixer held at the gallery. "He said the Muslim community had to resist this or they'll be relegated to the treatment the American Indian or African-American community has received in this county," Wilson recounted. Mohammed Al-Otoum, who identified himself to Wilson as a full-time student and an imam, or mosque leader, also complained. Saying "defacing the Quran" was "unacceptable," Al-Otoum asked that the work be removed from the exhibition; that the Quran pages be separated from the artwork and given to him, "to burn and bury them according to Islamic tradition"; and that officials arrange a private meeting between the artist and a student Muslim leader, according to Wilson, who documented the complaint. Other students also asked for Lechner's phone number, e-mail address and home address, Wilson said. Al-Otoum declined to comment, except to say it was Wilson's choice to write up his objection and launch an official complaint process.
The students and the Iman are exhibiting behavior that is going to prove Lechner's point. This is America, Art can sometimes offend and all religions are a target at one point or the other. The infamous cross in urine exhibit comes to mind and in this case Lechner has chosen Islam. The right thing to do is object but without the threats and demands that are going to backfire on the protestors and drown out any objections.
"The twist here is that the main objection for many is not the artwork's message but the destruction -- some say "desecration" -- of Islam's holy book. It's a sore point at Delta, where last year a Quran was found in a toilet. But the message rankles, too. "I think it's pretty much saying that Islam teaches terrorism," objected Malik Bayanzay, president of the Islamic Student Association. That's a distortion of Quranic teaching, he said. Bayanzay raised a couple of points: Many Americans support a flag-burning amendment, don't they? And where are the artworks desecrating the Bible or the Talmud? Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Council on Islamic-American Relations' Sacramento chapter, added that, given the ongoing Lodi terror investigation, "rising Islamophobia" is a concern in the Stockton area."
Meaningless arguments by Bayanzay. It's not saying that Islam teaches terrorism, the point is the radicals have taken Islam and wrapped it around violence. Many people do support a flag burning amendment, doesn't mean it will actually happen and burning the flag should be a crime. Freedom of speech and expression. Also having an art show doesn't mean if someone does a piece that is an insult to one religion, it is somehow better because they are an equal opportunity basher.
Delta's president, Raul Rodriguez, listened to student concerns but took a firm stand against removing "Kalashnikov Jihad." "You don't bow down to pressure like this," Rodriguez said. "You have to respect the right of the artist to express his idea. We're not going to censor anything here." It's important for students to understand the purpose of academic freedom: to present a range of ideas so students learn the critical-thinking skills to sort them all out, Rodriguez said. The opposite of critical thinking is allowing only one point of view. "And that's how fanatics are created," Rodriguez said. "And that's dangerous." When one student rep intimated some Muslim students might take things into their own hands, Rodriguez responded resolutely. "I told him I hope they don't do that, because there would be some very serious consequences. The students would be arrested. They would be expelled. And they would be branded terrorists."
I would like to thank that student rep for once again giving the images of Muslims as being unthinking reactionary beings. It is unbelievable how much damage would be done if any harm should happen to Lechner at the hands of some idiot. I applaud Rodriguez for taking a stand, lets see if he keeps its after this story gets more exposure.
The right way to object is with Islam awareness days and speakers who clear up misconceptions about Islam, Rodriguez said. Or with equally pointed art. Have at it. Ironically, any shouting and saber-rattling tends to vindicate Lechner, whose artwork suggests a segment of contemporary Islam cannot reconcile religiosity with modern secular institutions and principles. The reconciliation begins by conceding that art has the right to offend. Even desecrate.
The onus are on the Muslim students and their leaders. This is not Saudi Arabia, in America art will offend and make you angry at times. It is protected and that is a part of America norms/culture that makes it almost unique in the world. Do not make the mistake lashing out and proving people right.

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