The bodies lay where they were moments before innocently creating humor, or so they had thought. Militant Muslims, jihadis, terrorists or Islamists depending on your level of political correctness, had just murdered 12 artists in the offices of the French satirist newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
The comic newspaper had published cartoon images of Mohammad, the Muslim prophet, against the threats and warnings of Islamists. Charlie Hebdo had been warned against portraying the religious icon in physical form and against satirizing him. In fact, the paper had suffered a previous terrorist attack several years prior to this one, just nine months ago, but made no accommodation in their artistic expression to the sensitivities of those they knew would be violently offended at their art.
When does basic human decency, and sensitivity to others and the right to freely express oneself meet? When people ignore the entropy of equal parts responsibility with equal parts rights.
We’ve all been scolded at one point or another by a loving parent who taught us at a young age, “Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD do something.” Don’t we have a basic human responsibility not to purposely offend others, even if we feel we have a right to do so?
Apparently in the artistic world, limits and self-control do not apply. If they do apply, say militant artists, then it is not free expression and we are doomed as a society if we flinch in the face of bullying and terrorist tactics like those perpetrated against Charlie Hebdo.
In free societies we still have limits. There are limits to free speech in the United States. One cannot yell out “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theater if there is no fire without exposing onesself to legal prosecution should their negligence cause injury or property damage or financial loss due to stampeding patrons. One cannot maliciously write libelous and slanderous accusations about someone they don’t like without the potential for legal consequences.
So why is it that some artists feel they are immune to natural and moral limits on their expression?
In the Manhattan, New York, Park Avenue Armory, a military drill hall turned performance space, artist Laurie Anderson has created a multi-media expression of art that is highly offensive to a vulnerable segment of our society.
Ms. Anderson’s show includes the live projected image of a released Guantanamo Bay detainee by the name of Mohammed el Gharani. Gharani also speaks to the audience who roam the space, listening to Ms. Anderson’s music and Mr. Gharani’s “stories.” He is physically in West Africa, but his image is projected onto a white plaster likeness of a human being, presenting the frightening perception of his physical presence here, live, in the place where soldiers once trained and near the place where Mr. Gharani’s colleagues, on 9/11/01 destroyed more lives and property than did our enemies in WWII at Pearl Harbor and on the beaches of Normandy, France, on December 7, 1941 and June 6, 1944, respectively.
This would be like allowing neo-Nazi’s to perform mock executions of Jews in the preserved remains of Auchwitz, Poland, in the name of artistic expression.
Gharani’s stories include those of his alleged poor treatment at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also known as Gitmo. In fact, Mr. Gharani was treated with dignity and respect from his very first steps into Camp X-Ray on February 8, 2002. I know because I was there, as the ranking U.S. Army Medical Department officer with the Joint Detainee Operations Group, Joint Task Force 160, seeing to his treatment after he fell/fainted in the detainee shower during his in-processing.
Mr. Gharani impressed me and my medical colleagues as a liar, someone who was behaving as the Al Qaeda manual on how to act when captured instructed him to – including disruption of detention operations, faking injuries, lying about treatment, claiming to have been tortured, hunger strikes, and lawyering up as soon as possible. I write explicitly about this encounter in my memoir, “Saving Grace a t Guantanamo Bay.”
Mr. Gharani had been captured in the Tora Bora section of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border in the fall of 2001, after U.S. and coalition forces invaded Afghanistan in an effort to destroy Al Qaeda the Taliban and then bring AQ’s leader, Usamma bin Laden to justice.
Gharani has a Department of Defense rap sheet ten pages long, and is a trained Al Qaeda foot soldier, suicide bomber and high level courier who interacted with bin Laden, and who was captured while engaged in hostilities toward the U.S. and coalition forces.
Lest we forget, these actions by the U.S. and later up to 39 other countries, were in response to the Al Qaeda’s planned and executed attack of September 11, 2001, which saw the murder of over 3,000 men, women and children, and the destruction of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in the very city where Ms. Anderson is producing her feckless show.
Insult to injury is the purpose and method of her insidious performance. Not too far from Ground Zero and the monuments and memorials of the dead from 9/11/, and housed in the hallowed space where a museum and artifacts of New York’s storied 42nd Infantry Division are preserved, and in fact in the place where I served military duty as a combat medic during the First Gulf War in 1991, Ms. Anderson is pulling off the perception of having a freed Gitmo detainee appear on U.S. soil.
It is illegal for Gharani, a former detainee, to be present in the United States, and this performance flaunts the spirit of that law, on purpose. And in so doing, Ms. Anderson rips open sensitive wounds of the victims of terror, their families and loved ones, of veterans and military personnel, and the memory and sacrifice of those who gave their lives in defense of this great nation so that people like Ms. Anderson could enjoy the benefits and privilege of freedom of expression.
This betrayal is on the same scale as that of (Hanoi) Jane Fonda’s stunt during the Vietnam War when she visited our enemies in Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, while U.S. soldiers were being killed by North Vietnamese soldiers in the jungles of South Vietnam. Ms. Fonda was protesting the war, but at the same time giving aid and comfort to the enemy. To this day I have no idea why she was let back into the United States and then not prosecuted for treason – or at least a civilian version of “misbehavior before the enemy,” a military charge facing accused Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl.
Where does freedom of expression and artistic license end and common decency and respect to the sensitivities of others begin? Does it exist at all? Should it?
The Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated, the foundation of the Judeo/Christian ethic that founded this great nation of ours, is being ignored, in favor of Ms. Anderson’s Pagan, utilitarian, humanist ethic of, “if it feels good, do it,” and “if it’s useful to ME, it is good.”
The result is damage to the hearts and souls of those who are rightfully offended at this insensitive mockery of the meaning and purpose of all that is good and wholesome about our country, our military and our City of New York.
Haven’t we all suffered enough? Must we continue to endure the irresponsible slings and arrows of self-righteous artists who claim the moral high ground by glorifying our enemies?
What’s next, Laurie, a candlelight vigil for the 19 highjackers at Ground Zero?
God forbid this artistic expression inspires the next senseless act of terror.