The City of Troy, New York, "Where Henry Hudson Turned Around."

Friday, March 21, 2008


A positive consequence of any First Amendment controversy is the debate generated by that controversy. The Bilal exhibit has been no exception. Citizens have been treated to a tour de force from some of our most prominent political thinkers.

Years ago, in Jacobellis v Ohio, Justice Potter Stewart struggled with the definition of pornography. After viewing the record (in private, over and over again) Stewart wrote, "hardcore pornography is hard to define but I know it when I see it." Stewart later refined his definition: "That which makes me tingle where my bathing suit covers."

If a Supreme Court Justice of the United States can struggle with the definition of pornography then clearly, local political leaders should be able to have a reasonable discussion on art, terrorism, protesting and free speech.

Is Bilal's work art? If so, under what category does it belong. Is it visual art? Performance art? Crappy art? Under many definitions, Bilal's work is art.

Should art provoke protests? Can art be defined as terrorism? On occasion, yes. The collected works of Thomas Kincaid have terrorized my sight for years. That's not to mention the drab paintings of those kids with really big eyes. Creepy.

Ideally, one should view what one is condemning. How can one protest, define and condemn that which they have not seen? For lesser mortals this would be a problem. Not for Mr. Mirch:
“I have no interest in seeing a video that portrays the assassination of our president,” said Mirch, explaining why he hadn’t actually seen the art he was protesting. “I am all for freedom of speech. I just disagree with the content. I don’t think it is art. To me it is not art. It’s an Al Qaeda video that he changed. Now is Al Qaeda terrorist? The fact that it is a game or video assassinating the president—it’s terrorism.” Metroland

We respect anyone's right to have an opinion. We respect anyone's right to protest. But Mr. Mirch is not merely interested in protesting the exhibit. He wants it shut-down so we can be "American":

“The Sanctuary for Independent Media should cancel this exhibit immediately,” Mirch says. ”Allowing for the portrayal of the assassination of a president to be staged is wrong, un-American and destructive. I support free speech, but this exhibit goes beyond the bounds of what is decent or acceptable.” - Times Union

And behold: The very next day the exhibit is closed by an arm of City government controlled by Mr. Mirch. Perhaps Mr. Mirch's talents are wasted here in Troy. He could be in Iraq, determining, by intuition, who is and who is not a terrorist.

Mirch's ostensible problem (apart from growing largely irrelevant on the political scene) is that the "game" depicts the hunt for, and murder of, the President. Such a depiction is "un-American and destructive."

Unfortunately, the reporter never asked Mr. Mirch how such a depiction was destructive. Or how it was un-American. There are numerous video stores that rent movies such as, In the Line of Fire, The Manchurian Candidate, Oliver Stone's JFK and the television series, 24. Each depict either an assassination of an American President or the attempted assassination of an American President. Market Block Books carries DeLillo's Libra, a fictional account of President Kennedy's assassination. Has Mr. Mirch requested that those films be pulled from video stores? Has he protested at Market Block Books? Will Mr. Mirch be outside Crossgates or Colonie Center protesting the new movie Vantage Point?

Or is it the fact that Bilal's work depicts a sitting, albeit computerized, President? If so, that seems a facile distinction. The office is always more important than the current occupant.

Mr. Mirch calls the exhibit terrorism. Yet, he does not define terrorism. Certainly, the Bilal exhibit fits no known definition of terrorism. In fact, it is the antithesis of terrorism. Terrorism blindly strikes at the innocent in order to reach the intended target. In the exhibit, President Bush is the intended target as well as the intended victim. It would be a video crime, we suppose, but not terrorism. If it is terrorism, did Mr. Mirch call the Troy Police Department? If not, why not?

The intent of the piece must also be taken into account. Bilal has stated that the piece is not pro-violence but rather anti-violence. Shouldn't he know? Or do we adopt the view of elected officials such as Mark Wojcik. Mr. Wojcik brought his trademark eloquence and insight to the debate:

“I have a big problem with Muslims in this country.” - Mark Wojcik, Troy City Council

No doubt the most honest thing said by the Anti- First Amendment crowd to date. The Councilman appears to have no big problem witnessing an assault on the First Amendment.

Back to intent. Does anyone really want Mr. Mirch and Mark Wojcik deciding what people can and cannot see based on how they interrupt something they have not viewed? Let see how this works:

Did you know that Norman Rockwell was a racist? Yes, wholesome, all-American, Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell. We'll show you.

This Rockwell painting is entitled Murder in Mississippi. It celebrates the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three rabble-rousing, lefty, Civil Rights volunteers who were sticking their noses into the business of the good folks of Mississippi. It doesn't matter that Rockwell was an early supporter of Civil Rights. We know racism when we see it. Why else would he depict the deaths of two Jews and an African-American in such graphic terms?

Mr. Mirch has cheapened the debate for his own political purposes. In doing so he displays an appalling disregard for those fighting against terrorism and denigrates the memory of those killed or wounded by terrorists.

Mr. Mirch's radical agenda would see freedom of speech consigned to the "trash heap of history" and must be resisted at every turn. It's the only American thing to do.

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