Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Idomeneo play could be back on

EU: The fury of the cancellation and/or the possibility of very ticked of Germans has surprised some people like me who though the West had lost its backbone during the cartoon riots.

BERLIN, Sept. 27 — With all the issues dividing Muslims and Germans, there was one point on which all 30 participants in a landmark Islamic conference agreed here today, its German organizer said. They would like to see the Deutsche Oper of Berlin reinstate the Mozart opera it canceled earlier this week for fear that the production — which features a scene with the severed head of the Prophet Muhammad — would offend Muslims and put the opera house at risk. The 30 representatives — drawn equally from the government and Germany’s Muslim population — could even go see the opera together, said Wolfgang Schäuble, the German interior minister, who organized and was chairman of the conference in an 18th-century baroque palace. Mr. Schauble’s suggestion, at a news conference after the session, was an attempt to prevent the public uproar over the cancellation of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” from derailing this gathering, which was supposed to demonstrate Germany’s resolve to reach out to its more than three million Muslims, and to discuss basic differences on issues like women’s rights and Islamic lessons in public schools. “We have, in a very tolerant tone, laid out quite different positions,” Mr. Schäuble said. “That was the point.” In some ways, the tempest over the opera energized the conference — underlining the urgency and complexity of the issues facing Germany, as it seeks to integrate a Muslim population that is growing in size and, in the view of some, growing further apart from mainstream German society. “There was general agreement that we would like to see the opera come back,” said Mehmet Yildrim, the secretary-general of the Turkish-Islamic Union. “But there were different perspectives on the issue.” The conference, which had been planned soon after Angela Merkel was elected chancellor last fall, comes at a time of heightened debate here over whether Germans have been too quick to compromise their values in the face of anger, or merely the threat of anger, among Muslims. Even before the cancellation of the opera, there were misgivings here about the repeated expressions of regret by Pope Benedict XVI, a German, for his sharply criticized remarks about Islam and violence. Today, Mrs. Merkel added her voice to a chorus of political and cultural leaders, who have criticized the Deutsche Oper for canceling “Idomeneo” after receiving word of an anonymous threat. “I think the cancellation was a mistake,” she said to reporters. “Self-censorship does not help us against people who want to practice violence in the name of Islam. It makes no sense to retreat.” Officials in Berlin said today that they would like to stage “Idomeneo” as soon as possible. The director of the Deutsche Oper, Kirsten Harms, said she could imagine bringing back the production at some point, provided she could resolve its political and diplomatic implications.
THE German Government tried yesterday to defuse an international row that erupted after a nervous opera house called off a Mozart performance because it featured the decapitated head of the Prophet Muhammad. The opera, Idomeneo, has become a test case of how far the West should go in making concessions to the Islamic world. The Deutsche Oper, one of Europe’s top opera houses, scrapped the production for fear of an Islamic backlash. .....Frau Harms has remained adamant that security was more important than the performance. But she received little support from her fellow artists or from the media. Across the globe, she was accused of caving in to Muslim sensitivities. “Never in German culture has there been such a display of pre-emptive subservience,” said Der Standard, the Austrian daily. Other newspapers accused her directly of cowardice and surrendering Western cultural values. Her decision came on the eve of the Islamic summit in Berlin between German ministers, representatives of registered Islamic associations and independent Muslim writers and artists working in Germany. The aim was to reach a mutually acceptable definition of the limits of tolerance. Herr Schäuble made plain that though the tone had been relaxed, there had been no significant breakthrough. “We made clear for our part that everyone who lives in Germany must respect our constitutional and legal order,” the minister said. One conference sticking point was the reluctance to ban arranged marriages. “We’ve still got a long way to go before we can get the Muslim side to agree on our definition of the equality of women,” said Günther Beckstein, the Bavarian interior minister.

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