The Independent, or at least Arifa Akbar in The Independent, reports on attacks on a London art gallery but also, four words in, cites ‘inflammatory images.’ The art gallery was attacked but it had been quite naughty.
A gallery showing inflammatory images of veiled Muslims, including a bare-breasted woman partially clad in a burqa, is under police surveillance after being attacked earlier this week.
But the images are not ‘inflammatory’ unless people decide they are. It is open to people not to see them as inflammatory.
I don’t want to push that thought too hard. I don’t want to claim that it’s universally applicable – I don’t want to claim that nothing is genuinely malicious and aggressive unless someone decides it is. I don’t believe in applying Stoic reasoning to everything. I just want to make the drearily familiar claim that some kinds of speech and expression are genuinely racist or sexist or in some other way an attack on people as a group, and that others are not, and that we shouldn’t confuse the two, and that confusing the two is a way to undermine all kinds of rightly-valued freedoms and capabilities.
Maple, from Sussex, has upset the Islamic world before. An exhibition by her earlier this year showed Muslim women in provocative poses, including one suggestively sucking on a banana.
There again. Maple hasn’t ‘upset the Islamic world’; the ‘Islamic world’ or rather a very small fraction of it has chosen to be upset. It has no real or legitimate reason to be upset.
Mokhtar Badri, the vice-president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said that while he thought the exhibition provocative, he defended freedom of expression and condemned any violence inspired by the display. “I urged the gallery and the artist to respect the community in the area, but if Muslims see the work and dislike it, it is completely wrong to use any violent expression of that,” he added.
Good that he condemned violence, but urging the gallery and the artist to respect the community in the area in fact just reinforces the message that galleries and artists have to creep around whatever ‘area’ they happen to be in and find out what all the local prejudices are and then ‘respect’ them, which in the case of Sarah Maples of course would have meant simply not showing her paintings at all. (And would the Indy have refrained from calling the images ‘inflammatory’ if the gallery had been in Chelsea or Hampstead or Cheam? I doubt it.) Urging the gallery and the artist to respect the community is a kind of first small step in the direction of overt coercion and eventually violence – which is not to say that Badri should be censored, just that he is wrong.