CHICAGO, September 16, 2012— After the 1987 death of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, the city’s first Black mayor, art student David K. Nelson Jr. created a painting of the late mayor wearing only a bra, g-string, garter belt, and stockings. The painting was the artist’s response to the deification of Washington. The painting was titled “Mirth and Girth”.
“Mirth and Girth” was displayed during a private student showing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. United States Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) was a Chicago alderman at the time. He pushed for a resolution in the City Council to remove the painting. The resolution read in part, “Whereas, the artist David Nelson obviously exhibits some type of demented and pathological mental capacities …” It is unknown where or if Rush received training in psychiatry.
Upon passage of the resolution, a group of Black aldermen, police officers, and reporters, went to the school to deliver it. One the alderman threatened to burn the painting in the school if it was not removed. Aldermen and police confiscated the painting alleging it may incite a riot.
Not one of those aldermen was indicted or arrested for this gross egregious violation of civil rights. That is the Chicago Way. The artist eventually settled a lawsuit with the city. Nelson and the ACLU split $95,000.00 after a federal appeals court upheld the decision.
A film produced in America is officially being harshly criticized, demeaned, judged, and denigrated for depicting Mohammad in an unflattering light by our government. The government of the United States is officially disapproving of expression.
Practitioners of Islam consider any depiction of the Prophet blasphemy and sacrilege. It is illegal in Muslim countries where Islam and Shariah law is part of their governance.
Our government is blaming the film for well-coordinated violence and violent attacks across North Africa and the Middle East. In the case of Libya, the attacks occurred on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. The attackers used military heavy ordinance. The attackers are believed to be Al Queda or a breakaway faction of that group.
If this administration, the American people and media are dumb enough to believe the attack in Libya on the anniversary of 9/11 by a terrorist organization was over a ridiculous film we need a new education system in this country.
The film or trailer has been on YouTube for months. Why is it causing problems now? Just because this administration says it is? Or is this a convenient excuse for poor or non-existent policy in that region? Is it an excuse for poor or non-existent intelligence gathering or analysis? Is it an excuse for people being asleep at the switch?
Instead of defending and protecting freedom of expression our government officials, through their official condemnation and disapproval, are creating a chilling effect on it. The media are complicit in this, echoing the government’s point of view. It is government boosterism at its worst.
Free speech and expression are just that, free. No matter how disgusting, distasteful, reprehensible, or irresponsible, free means free. Freedom of speech and expression are not limited or determined by how people may or may not react to it. Unless it advocates imminent criminal activity, which this film did not, freedom of speech and expression must be vigorously protected and defended by our government.
By the way, expressing offense at speech and expression is a form of free speech and expression. It is called dialog, as in the open and free dialog of ideas.
The Bill of Rights is one of the cornerstones of American Exceptionalism. When our government officially condemns and disapproves of speech or expression it erodes that exceptionalism and our national core values. It is immoral bordering on illicit.
“Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al al-Sheikh, denounced the attacks while urging governments and international bodies to criminalize insults against prophets.” (Chicago Tribune)
There has been an international movement to limit freedom of speech and expression relating to Islam for several years. Investors Business Daily reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton negotiated a protocol with the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). OIC is a coalition of 56 Muslim nations. This protocol is designed to create enforcement mechanisms for those who practice Islamophobia, whatever that is. The protocol was in response to a United Nations resolution mandating that governments fight so-called Islamophobia.
The object is “establishing an international instrument to criminalize acts of Islamophobia,” including “legal measures against the defamation” of Muslim icons like Muhammad… plan to develop international blasphemy laws applying to speech deemed offensive to all Islamic doctrine — including violent jihad and barbaric “Shariahh” legal code — as well as Islamic institutions, symbols and even historic figures.” (Investors Business Daily)
The OIC protocol includes a deadline of 2015 for implementing legal codes with deterrent punishment for any criticism or prejudice against Islam in all countries.
Again, it must be stressed that our government is a participant in this opprobrious erosion of free speech, the singling out of one specific religion for singular protection, and the criminalization of speech or expression derogatory towards that particular faith.
The fact that our government even participated in a U.N. resolution and OIC protocol advocating the limitation and criminalization of free speech is appalling.
If other countries want to impose religious law on their populations that is their problem not ours. If they want to control their population and their population accepts that control that is their right. If they want to impose censorship more power to them. America should never conform to others by diminishing our unalienable rights. America should not participate in or negotiate any such concepts.
No American should fear expressing themselves in any way shape or form. The statements from our government over “Innocence of Islam” or “Innocence of Muslims”, another title for the movie, are creating a chilling effect on free expression and free speech.
America is a free country. Americans have unalienable rights. Countries, the United Nations, coalitions, and religions have no right to limit, criminalize, or penalize speech or expression in America. Our government has no duty or obligation to participate in such actions.
Our government’s only duty and obligation is to protect and defend freedom of speech and expression and the people who create or produce it no matter how offensive, ridiculous or reprehensible it is.
Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur. He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.
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