Absolutely Inapprehensible

“If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them….”

Karl Popper 1902-1994

It is unbelievable: on the eve of the first German Islam Conference, the “Deutsche Oper”, one of three berlin opera houses, has canceled Mozarts opera “Idomeneo” due to threats of Islamist violence. The “Deutsche Oper” said in a statement security risks presented to the company by Berlin’s police had caused them to cancel their show.
In the 3-year-old production by Hans Neuenfels, King Idomeneo is shown staggering on stage next to the severed heads of religious figures, including Jesus Christ, Buddha, the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon and – the Prophet Mohammed. The disputed scene, which is not part of Mozart’s original staging of the 225-year-old opera, but was an addition of Neuenfels’ production, would pose an “incalculable security risk” for the house and its visitors.

I have to agree with Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble who called the cancellation “simply crazy.”
The threat of violent retaliation should not manage to constrain the freedom of expression in a western democracy. With all understanding for the concern about the security of spectators and performers, I consider the decision of the Deutsche Oper to be wrong. When the concern over possible protests leads to self-censorship, then the democratic culture of free speech becomes endangered. This is the first step to give up our, the western worlds, highest value: our freedom of speech and art. That is unacceptable.

9 Comments so far

  1. wi11iam13 (unregistered) on September 27th, 2006 @ 1:08 am

    i agree with most of your post – but i would say that this is not the first step, but only the latest in an ongoing series…whether this march will end at the grave of the open society remains to be seen…

  2. david (unregistered) on September 27th, 2006 @ 1:53 am

    Whats’s the big deal? If it was an art piece depicting human embryoes being eaten or something, I’m sure people would protest too, and fair enough. Although i dont think a threat of violence is appropriate.

    If it offends anough people, why show it? We should be tolerant to pritestors too.

  3. Habiba (unregistered) on September 27th, 2006 @ 10:40 am

    If only Berlin could be encouraged to take up Popper’s remarkable inductive logic here for which he became known; and realise how utterly damaging this is to any tolerable form of civilized discourse.

  4. wi11iam13 (unregistered) on September 27th, 2006 @ 10:46 am

    it’s true, the eating of human embryos might cause a bit of stir! but wouldn’t it be great entertainment? imagine the outrage in the BZ! seriously though, the grounds for the opera’s self censorship were not that they might offend people (the opera has been offending people for centuries!) but that those offended may resort to violence in order to demonstrate their ‘intolerance’. Certainly citizens should protest at events they consider offensive – this is part of the living dialogue of a society – but to exert violence or the threat of violence to silence others is the beginning of totalitarianism (european history is replete with examples)- and to engage in self-censorship in an attempt to placate the offended and avoid all controversy not only silences this dialogue, but creates a society that encourages silence, isolation and conformity, perfect if you are seeking a authoritarian state!

  5. Freedom (unregistered) on September 27th, 2006 @ 11:22 am

    That’s sad and unacceptable. I hope they change their minds and go ahead with the production. Should that happen, I will be there (I didn’t know Idomeneo was going to be staged at the Oper, btw) and do my part to stand against these barbaric atempts against civilization and freedom of speech.

  6. Moritz Bockum (unregistered) on September 27th, 2006 @ 1:57 pm

    …I do agree with wi11iam13 !!
    I like the “post” + intresting discussion!
    keep the good work on!


  7. till (unregistered) on September 27th, 2006 @ 3:47 pm

    This is pretty ridiculous!

    And I also heard that about a year or so ago, no one gave a shit when the play was shown – that’s right, it had been already performed with all those scences! But since then taking offense in everything if it tipps your religion has become -the- new fashion. :(

  8. Tim Bregenz (unregistered) on September 27th, 2006 @ 7:55 pm

    Regarding the recent Idomeneo: Although Mozart had no intention to insult any religions, the interpretation of Neuenfels, that the king of Kreta, Idomeneo, denied the dictatorship of the gods is a valid one. The question why showing that in such a drastic way, as this also would have insulted most christians, is another one. But at least there has to be the option for artists to decide freely how to visualize their insights.

    We have to oppose the trend of Muslims cencoring the western world, art as a media would be, from my point of view, a proper stage to begin with.

  9. wi11iam13 (unregistered) on September 28th, 2006 @ 12:34 pm

    the media’s attention to the recent protests involving depictions of mohammed (p.b.u.h.) or the pope’s (p.b.u.h. too) recent ill-chosen words make these controversies well known but they are not the only threats to freedom of speech (artistic or otherwise). For instance the NPD in Berlin or the fundamentalist christians in the USA also have long term agendas which would restrict self expression and restrict the rights of the individual to those with a presumed ‘societal good’. indeed, the skies darken and storms threaten the very idea of these freedoms which we have only recently won and which we so quickly take for granted. perhaps the next time we meet it will be in some sort of quasi-religious gulag or re-education camp!

    oh and here is short piece by Henryk Broder who, as a non-observant jew, is offended that Moses isn’t also beheaded by Ideomeneo!


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