Saturday, November 26, 2005


My old boss Giovanni Ingellis used to talk about what he would do if and when he ever retired--sadly, he never lived to do so--and he used to joke that he would spend his days sitting atop the Milan Duomo with a machine gun, waiting for the first graffiti writer to try to spraypaint the famed cathedral. The image always made me smile because of its absurdity, though I liked the symbolism.

The symbolism is still relevant, I think, when we look at Europe's relations with its ever-demanding, never-satisfied Muslim minority: Today, Europe's great and unmatched legacy of art and architecture forms the demarcation line at which we can measure Europe's acceptance of or resistance to those forces that would enslave it.

Sometimes, Europe defends its art, and by extension, its continued free existence, as in the commendable reaction of Italian authorities to Muslim demands for the destruction of the Bologna fresco that depicts Muhammad being condemned to Hell. Cardinal Biffi's response was that it was “absurd to suddenly discover after 600 years that our most famous treasure is offensive to the Islamic religion”. The particularly enlightened Italian response owes something to the Italian character, and to the knowledge that Dante, Italy's greatest poet, would have to be thrown under the train as well:

But unfortunately, that line of culture that separates freedom from slavery has its weak points. I read this week about a production of Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great that censored significant portions of the play:

All of this was excised:

Audiences at the Barbican in London did not see the Koran being burnt, as Marlowe intended, because David Farr, who directed and adapted the classic play, feared that it would inflame passions in the light of the London bombings.

Simon Reade, artistic director of the Bristol Old Vic, said that if they had not altered the original it “would have unnecessarily raised the hackles of a significant proportion of one of the world’s great religions”...burning the Koran “would have been unnecessarily inflammatory”.

The burning of the Koran was “smoothed over”, he said, so that it became just the destruction of “a load of books” relating to any culture or religion. That made it more powerful, they claimed.

Time will tell if Europe is willing to abandon its culture in the face of intimidation from its enemies.

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