Dutch Museums Pulls Muhammad Photos

I don’t enjoy Sooreh Hera’s photographs. I don’t consider them to be art or even very artistic. But the photographer, originally from Iran, has an absolute moral right to take such photos and display them in consenting establishments — and her right should be protected by law.

Unfortunately, because Islamists have threatened violence, a Dutch museums have pulled Hera’s photographs. Fox reports:

The most controversial images feature gay men posed in various stages of undress. In one, a man wears leather chaps with his buttocks exposed, wearing a mask of Ali, the son-in law of the prophet Muhammad. In other photo two men are shirtless wearing masks of both Ali (on the left) and Muhammad (on the right). …

Museum directors initially planned to display the work of the 35-year-old artist. But now, citing fear of reprisals and political pressure, they’ve changed their mind, much to her dismay.

A museum does have the right to choose which works to display. If a museum had decided not to display Hera’s photographs beccause they aren’t very good, that would have been no violation of Hera’s rights. (One museum did reject the photos on the basis of quality.) But, by threatening violence, Islamists have violated the rights both of the museums and of Hera.

Fox continues:

…John Voll, associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, said Hera’s works cross the line and are offensive.

He said freedom of speech does not mean that one has the freedom to be as insulting as possible.

“It isn’t as if we have absolute freedom in the United States to be offensive and insulting just to be different,” Voll said in an interview.

“Can you imagine what would happen if John McCain used the n-word about Obama while campaigning? There are consequences. Free speech is not absolute,” he said.

Freedom of speech does indeed mean that we have the “freedom to be as insulting as possible,” within the context of rights, meaning that libel, slander, and incitements to violence are excluded. (Inciting someone to violence does not mean insulting them such that they become violent, as Islamists would have us believe; it means actively exhorting others to commit acts of violence, as Islamists do.)

Voll confuses freedom of speech — one’s legal right to say and publish whatever one wants with one’s own resources — with the social consequences of speech. McCain has the right to call Obama the n-word. And the rest of us would have the right to vote against him for doing so.

Fox reports:

“The Netherlands is very much a flashpoint right now. It looks as if there is going to have to be some hard choices made about whether we”re going to defend our civilization or not,” Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch told FOXNews.com.

Spencer says this sort of pressure by Muslim groups “who don’t hesitate to traffic in violent intimidation” will continue to undercut freedom of speech until it no longer exists.

“The ultimate goal of people making threats is to make it illegal or too dangerous or both for anybody to say anything considered to be insulting to Muhammad or Allah, to impose the Islamic code, which is the goal of Usama bin Laden, upon the West,” he said.

“It’s time to take a stand and say we believe in freedom of speech and that means some people will be offended.”

Whether you praise or condemn Hera’s photographs, defenders of liberty must defend her right to create and display such work, free from violence and threats thereof. Free speech protects offensive speech or it protects nothing at all.