Day By Day

Friday, October 06, 2006

Idomeneo, Fundamental Principles, and Occasions for Outrage

Peter Beinart, in the New Republic, writes:

Last week, I went searching the liberal Web for discussions of Idomeneo. The Deutsche Oper, a Berlin opera house, had recently canceled the Mozart classic because it feared Muslims would react violently to a scene featuring Mohammed's severed head. Germans declared that free speech was under siege. The New York Times covered every wrinkle. Right-wing websites buzzed. And, on the big liberal blogs, virtual silence.

If pressed, most liberal bloggers would probably have condemned the opera house's decision. But they didn't feel pressed. Blogging thrives on outrage (see, for instance, my colleague Martin Peretz's outraged blogging on the affair at, and the Idomeneo closure just didn't get liberal blood flowing. And why is that? Perhaps because it didn't have anything to do with George W. Bush.

Read it here.

He has a point. The hypocrisy of the left knows no bounds. And Beinart rightly points out the self-defeating aspects of Bush hatred.
Having adapted themselves so fully to a hyper-partisan environment, many liberals seem unable to conceive of a struggle in which the Republican right is not an enemy but an ally. But there are such struggles, and, without today's activist liberals, they will be harder to win. Free speech is under threat, and Idomeneo should be the last straw. It is time, once again, to close ranks.
But this, I think, is the wrong place to draw the line. Consider the picture above, from der Spiegel. This is not a restrained, balanced, classical presentation of Mozart's work. It is a calculated affront to religious sensibilities -- thoroughly modern in its references. By updating Mozart in such a way as to be as offensive as possible the opera company is inviting protest and the publicity that accompanies it. This whole affair stinks of complicity by ideologues on all sides who are seeking attention and the only reasonable response to such provocations and the protests they engender is to ignore them. In this case the liberal response that Beinart denounces is appropriate, and the hysterical reaction of the right is not, although I think Beinart errs in his estimation of how much the right's response is motivated by political expediency.

I agree with Beinart that left and right should join forces in defending fundamental principles and that hyper-partisanship is destructive of our political heritage, but here there is a real reason for outrage. Irresponsible "artists" operating in the Berlin opera and in Islamic mosques have collaborated to manufacture a situation that is a travesty of legitimate free speech controversies. There are plenty of occasions where drawing the line is appropriate, but this is not one of them.

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