A work of “art” that was on display in a library on the Rutgers University campus was grudgingly removed after some people complained that it was sacrilegious. But unlike the price paid by the staff of Charlie Hebdo in Paris in 2015, neither the artist nor supporters of his right to free self-expression were harmed. The Art Library on Voorhees Mall remains intact.
So has civilization finally turned a corner? Are we at last able calmly to resolve our differences without resorting to acts of violence?
Not exactly — and not because the depiction of Muhammad in this particular work is tasteful. In fact, Muhammad isn’t in the piece at all. Rather, the work, titled “Vitruvian Man,” consists of a carved statuette of Jesus crucified against a dartboard. (Out of respect to readers and staff members who may find this work offensive, I have opted not to reproduce it here.)
According to NJ.com (which did reproduce it), school officials were initially reluctant to comply with requests to remove the exhibit.
“It is surprising that a state university would allow this. I asked them to take it down because I found it disrespectful and they refused,” Rutgers alumnae Natalie Caruso, of Elmwood Park, said Wedensday in a Facebook post on the Rutgers University Class of 2016 page that drew hundreds of comments and shares.
And once officials did agree to remove it, their reasons for doing so seemed like a cop out.
“The artwork in question was removed from the exhibit because it did not meet Rutgers University Libraries policy, which requires art exhibitions and their pieces to be based on university events, curricular offerings and topics of interest to the university community,” said Jessica Pellien, director of communications at Rutgers University Libraries.
Not everyone on campus was happy to see the work go. A student named Joe Buchoff is quoted as saying:
It’s art, it’s an important statement. Also it’s hilarious. We don’t have to cater to the wills of the Church or any denomination of Christianity or religion. [Emphasis added]
The highlighted phrase is the money portion of the statement. If you are going to support the right of an artist to create a religious work that some will take offense at, then you have to be prepared to extend the same right to defame every religion, without exception. You also have a right to expect that those offended by the work will express their opinion in a peaceful and respectful manner.
As a society, we are still a long way from that perspective.