A Free Speech Test for the President
Just in time to piggyback some PR on the notoriety of the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery in New York is featuring a retrospective of artist Andres Serrano's work, including the controversial photograph dubbed "Piss Christ."
On Palm Sunday last year, 1,000 protesters marched outside a French gallery showing “Piss Christ,” and the piece was attacked by hammer-toting vandals while gallery workers received death threats. The piece — there are 10 prints — has also been vandalized at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia and in Sweden.
But Serrano told us he’s not expecting trouble in his hometown of New York. “It’s not going to receive the same attention,” he said, adding that the French attack “destroyed” the piece, but, “It transformed ‘Piss Christ’ into something else. It’s mounted on plexiglass, and it looked like they’d attacked Christ. The marks were all around the face.”
A rep for the Midtown gallery confirmed it was beefing up security in anticipation of protests, but wouldn’t elaborate further.
Serrano is working on a book of 400 photographs recently shot in Cuba. His mother, who was born in Florida, is of Cuban heritage. “It’s about time we talked about Cuba,” he said, calling the US embargo “horrendous.”
He adds, the situation around NEA funding that “Piss Christ” ignited “never got better . . . the budget of the NEA was slashed in half. There seems to be a sort of dislike for the arts, and for the government supporting the arts. It’s not right.”
Will President Obama speak out against this outrageous depiction of the Christian savior, the son of God? I hope not. The pressure is already intense for him to do so. And Barack Obama did not made it any easier on himself when he publicly condemned the film Innocence of Muslims. Legitimate questions will be raised by Christians who are mightily offended by Serrano's hateful depiction of Jesus: If you can condemn a blasphemous film depicting Mohammed, why not a blasphemous photo depicting Christ?
He should neither condemn nor support either. His job is to protect free speech, no matter how offensive it might be to Americans or foreigners. If the best way to defend that right is to keep his mouth shut, he should do so.
But President Obama has already failed the free speech test by agreeing with the perpetually outraged Islamists that they had cause to riot. Just yesterday, he reaffirmed that Muslim outrage at the film was justified.
President Barack Obama said he thinks Muslim protests against Western criticism of Islam are “natural.”
“The natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests,” Obama said during an hour-long town-hall interview on the Spanish-language Univision channel.
Obama did not use the interview to champion the right of Americans to speak freely amid criticism and threats from Islamic advocates.
He did briefly mention free-speech, saying that democracy also includes “looking out for minority rights… respecting freedom of speech… [and] treating women fairly.”