While Eliot Spitzer and Tailgate unfolded, a much more important saga was underway in the City of Troy. Ken Crowe's March 11 article in the Times Union will give you some background.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute expelled a visiting artist's exhibition on Monday as arguments continued about academic freedom and free speech on campus.
However, Wafaa Bilal's "Virtual Jihadi" video game exhibit, which features himself as a suicide bomber on a mission to assassinate President Bush, opened Monday night at the Sanctuary for Independent Media. It will remain on view at the performance and exhibit space at 3361 Sixth Ave. through April 4.
The RPI administration issued a statement Monday evening announcing its decision not to reopen the exhibit, which was shut down last week. RPI said it acted because the video game was derived from a product created by a terrorist organization and that it suggests killing the President.
As best as we can tell, the RPI Young Republicans, who have learned the tactics of Joseph Goebbels quite well, raised a ruckus over the exhibit. The institute's administration, displaying the backbone of Neville Chamberlain, exiled the exhibit.
At this point, we are dealing with censorship but not any First Amendment violations. Young Republicans must be allowed to veil their distaste of freedom in patriotism. The Administration at RPI has every right to act cowardly. There has been no government involvment and the Constitution is not implicated.
The one inspiring development....the exhibit found a home at the Sanctuary for Independent Media located at 3361 6th Avenue in Troy, NY. Troy should be proud that their was a facility that could, and did, offer a home to the exiled.
In the video game "Quest for Saddam," players fight stereotypical Iraqi foes and try to kill Saddam. Al Qaeda created an online video game using "Quest for Saddam" but changed the game into a hunt for President Bush.
Wafaa Bilal, the artist, hacked the Al Qaeda version of the game to create his own vision of the conflict entitled "The Night of Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi."
Bilal casts himself as a suicide-bomber in the game. He learns of the real-life death of his brother in the war and is recruited by Al Qaeda to join the hunt for Bush.
According to the exhibit's website:
This work is meant to bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the current war and racist generalizations and stereotypes as exhibited in games such as "Quest for Saddam," along with vulnerability to recruitment by violent groups like Al Qaeda because of the U.S.’s failed strategy in securing Iraq. The work also aims to shed light on groups that traffic in crass and hateful stereotypes of Arab culture with games like "Quest for Saddam" and other media.
"[Virtual Jihadi] is meant to bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the current war and racist generalizations and stereotypes as exhibited in games such as Quest for Saddam; along with vulnerability to recruitment by violent groups like Al Qaeda because of the U.S.’s failed strategy in securing Iraq. The work also aims to shed light on groups that traffic in crass and hateful stereotypes of Arab culture with games like Quest for Saddam and other media."
Do not expect us to defend or critique the "art." Scholars, experts and historians can spend valuable hours discussing the definition of art. We have too much unwatched porn to get through to engage in that debate. The only significant factor for our purposes is the overt political nature of the work.
Coming up tomorrow....
The real performance gets underway.