The story captured headlines in the Chicago Tribune for a few weeks during my bartending days in the mid-1980s. Some college was exhibiting its students’ art at the Museum of Modern Art. One student’s “art” exhibit had a podium with a sign-in book for, I believe, some kind of memorial. There was a hitch, of course. In order to sign the book, you had to stand on an American flag placed on the floor. He was trying to make some kind of point, but he received all sorts of threats and warnings from Chicagoans including veterans, politicians and the basic tough guys talking in bars. The student not only made headlines, he appeared on local news, too.
On one side was freedom of speech; the other side was an offensive, un-American, shameful abuse of the First Amendment. When the exhibit went away, so did the outrage.
He’s probably an employee at Pixar, or serving fries somewhere, or maybe he’s a father with a brat of a son who graduated college and won’t move out of the basement.
I thought about this art student when I heard about the outrage in the Muslim world a few weeks ago over the cheesy 14-minute video seen on YouTube called Innocence of Muslims, and those offensive Prophet Muhammad cartoons published a week later in a satirical Paris magazine — the same magazine that was firebombed last November for the same reason. Stupid and more stupid.
More than 20 countries have dealt with violent protests at American, German and French embassies over these events, and some countries were blocking access to You Tube so their crazies wouldn’t be able to see the “film.”
Speaking of crazies, according to the International Herald-Tribune in Pakistan, Abdullah Ismail died a day after he joined 10,000 fellow demonstrators in Lahore burning American flags protesting the film. It seems he died from inhaling fumes from the burning flags. Yikes. If our flags are poisonous enough to kill their protesters, we must be evil.
On Sept. 18, a day after Abdullah died, Pakistan declared Sept. 21 a national holiday in honor of the Prophet Muhammad to appease their angriest of citizens. And that’s saying something. Here’s a country that hid Osama bin Laden, and the government’s still afraid of being overthrown for being too genial to the West.
On Pakistan’s official day off for protesting the Great Evil Flag Empire, the French closed embassies, cultural institutions and schools in 20 countries as a safety precaution.
Meanwhile, the general prosecutor of Egypt has issued arrest warrants, in absentia, to seven Coptic Christians and Pastor Terry Jones for insulting and publicly insulting Islam because of the film — even though five of them have nothing to do with the film. They could face the death penalty if convicted.
There have been no reports that Pastor Jones — who hails from Florida, looks like an extra on Sons of Anarchy, and has a penchant for burning Korans whenever he sees a video camera — or the Coptics plan to vacation to see the pyramids anytime soon.
When Islamists fail to observe Newton’s Third Law reacting to stupid videos and cartoons, they show the world that the Arab Spring is turning into something unspring-like.
However, blame must also fall with the provocateurs. These movies and cartoons weren’t made to teach a lesson about freedom of expression or Western democracy. They were made to get publicity. And, unlike the Chicago artist who took his own heat, they were far away from receiving the consequences of their actions, although you have to wonder about the intelligence of the French magazine publisher, who just redecorated after the last firebombing.