The Spine

Muhammed Gives the Met the Jitters

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This is an inside New York story that I read in the New York Post. But it's really an international story with serious ramifications. This is actually a postscript to the twelve Danish cartoons of four years ago, one of which was the image of a bomb in Muhammed's turban. There was an attempt on the life of this particular cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, by a Somali jihadnik a week after the Christmas bomber struck. The Somali was arrested, as was the Nigerian. Notice that Muslim fanaticism is now also an African phenomenon.

Apparently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has used the pretext of its $50 million renovation to jettison three early images of Muhammed--painted long before the religious authorities decided they were verboten.

The eminences at the Met have also opted to rename their "Islamic Galleries"; the showing rooms will soon be called "Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia." This is a mouthful. It is also a distraction from Islam, suggested Kishwar Rizvi, professor of Islamic art history at Yale. He argued that "[i]t's cumbersome and problematic to base [the exhibit] on nationalistic boundaries."

The Met is the second high-culture institution in recent months to capitulate to Muslim vigilantes with regard to the visage of Muhammed. The first, ironically, was Yale University Press, which excised images of the prophet from a scholarly book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Professor Jytte Klausen of Brandeis.

Yale's panic is pathetic. So is the Met's panic pathetic, positively pathetic.

Probably the most eminent and learned scholar of the art history of Islam, Oleg Grabar, professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, wrote for TNR what several other authorities in the field considered the definitive judgment on the topic: This contemporary Muslim obsession is ahistorical and really has nothing to do with Islam. You would have thought fini. But it is not fini at all.

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