Thursday, June 09, 2005

Robert Libman v. Zahra Kazemi


Since the borough of Cote Saint Luc shut down Ms. Kazemi's exhibit, there have been some new developments.

From today's Le Devoir: Mayor Tremblay doesn't want to get involved. After seeing his swift and decisive actions in L'Affaire Roadsworth, I would have expected anything less.

The ArtFag picks up the baton, with a brilliant piece of expository writing. (scroll down to the bottom)

Yesterday, Radio France picked up the story, via the Montreal City Weblog.

Yesterday's La Presse: Nicolas Bérubé writes an article about the sad state of affairs. While he mentions that the very same exhibit was shown in Paris, by the mayor of Paris, he forgets to mention that it had been previously exhibited here in Montreal at BlowUp.

As an aside, how do you think the censoring of art is going to play out with regards to the consultations the Quebec government is having with regards to getting the private sector to finance art?

And despite what René Derouin might write in Le Devoir, I would not be recommending to any artist that they come live here in Quebec.

Then we get the rest of the blogosphere joining in.
Jean-Pierre Cloutier
The Canadian Journalist Blog
Way Down Here
An Active Mind
3 Rivières- 2 Gars- 1 Blogue
Geezer Rants
The Original Bro-Log
Randy McDonald's Live Journal
Way Down Here
Then, what I find very interesting is that in Google News, the English Canadian Version coughs up 5 articles. While the French Canadian version coughs up 10 articles (including this one from Agence France Press). With no duplications!

But the best has to be Mr. Libman's response to an email that someone I know wrote, first the email, then the response:
-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, June 09, 2005 11:02 AM
To: rlibman@ville.montreal.qc.ca
Subject: censorship at the cote st luc library

Mr. Libman:

Your censorship of the exhibition of the photographs by Zahara Kazemi is an insult to her, a misreading of sentiment in the larger Montreal community, Jewish and others, and a blow against freedom of expression. That you censor a photo exhibit taking place in a library only adds further insult, since where is there a better place for the exchange of ideas.

Zahara Kazemi was murdered because she fought for the human rights of all peoples. By refusing to let her photos remain on view, you seriously diminish the rights of Montrealers to see more than a censored view of a persisting conflict. And the failure to see more than a censored view is what sustains conflict, not what will lead to its end.

It is difficult to contain my anger and disappointment at your lack of support for the exhibition in the Cote St Luc library, and I must protest with others your most shameful action here.

-----Original Message-----
From: rlibman@ville.montreal.qc.ca
Sent: Thursday, June 09, 2005 11:56 AM
Subject: Réf. : censorship at the cote st luc library


Unfortunately, you are unaware of some of the circumstances surrounding what happened. We solicited the exhibition in order to support Madame Kazemi's son's quest for justice. We were unaware however that the exhibition, once organized with the accompanying text, sought to portray the State of Israel as an opressive regime. Israel is a modern, democratic country and the exhibition clearly equates and compares Israel to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Mullahs in Iran. That is an unbalanced and offensive portrait of Israel and extremely sensitive in this community.

We were hoodwinked by her son whom we wanted to support. His refusal to give details about the content of the exhibition in advance exposes that he wanted to promote a secondary agenda, the demonization of Israel. We received complaints from numerous residents and tried to reason with her son to understand some of the sensitivity of a few of the photos. He was unwilling to discuss striking a compromise, even though the removal of a few of the photos would not undermine the essence of the exhibition.

Hopefully you could understand this very difficult and unfortunate decision.

Robert Libman
As far as I can see, the only way that he could have been "unaware" of the contents of the exhibit were if he was blind. Standard Operating Practice when running a gallery (and the Cote Saint Luc Library had previously shown exhibits, so it qualifies) is to go and look at what is going to be put up on the walls, before they go up. Then, if he (or one of his minions) couldn't be bothered to look at the photos beforehand, as La Presse wrote, it has been exhibited before in Paris. If he didn't want to got to Paris, he could have made the trip, or sent one of his minions down to Square Victoria to see it at BlowUp Galley. Then to say that he was "hoodwinked" by Mr. Hashemi is freakin' ridiculous!

If he is that gullible, then I strongly recommend that everybody go to Mr. Libman, sell him that bridge that you've been trying to dispose of for years, or perhaps you've got some swampland in Florida that he might be interested in. I'm certain that the voters in Cote Saint Luc are mighty happy to hear that their mayor is that responsible in his actions. It's a pity that Justice Gomery is taking up all the space the newspapers can allot to shady politics.

As I asked on Tuesday, who made the complaint, and how much did they donate to Mr. Libman's campaign? I would certainly hope that both of those pieces of information are public.

I called Mr. Libman yesterday, in order to ask him those questions (and tell him what I think of censorship in general) I'm still waiting to hear back from him. You too, can call him, at (514) 485-6936, or if you prefer, email him at rlibman@ville.montreal.qc.ca.

[Update - June 9, 2005, 6:30 pm: Cause I'm procrastinating, I discovered this. What makes it so interesting is that someone calling themselves "Librarian," wrote this:
I work at the library in question and saw the exhibit before it was taken down. One of my thoughts on it was it gave zero context to what was going in the photographs. To give one example, there was a girl holding a handful of grenades, at least one of which had Hebrew letters on it. What is the situation behind this photograph? Are these live grenades, dud grenades, spent tear gas grenades? Why is she holding them? Is it the Israelis' fault? The standard line would be to say yes, but what if they were grenades stolen from the Israeli Army by militants and given to girl as a photo-op? I don't know and there was nothing in exhibit to tell me. This wasn't the only ambiguous photo.

In addition, Kazemi's son used the term "Palestine" to describe the group of photographs in question. In Middle East terms, that is a loaded word, one distinctly pro-Arab. A more neutral term would have been far more diplomatic.

The thing is the population of Côte-Saint-Luc is 90% Jewish. The use of such a loaded word, is pretty much guarranteed to cause a fuss. I am suspicious that the head of the Library didn't take enough time to think about the potential problems before green-lighting the exhibit.

Once the complaint arose, the reaction was predictable. The Libary and City Hall seem to live in fear of causing a fuss. One complaint from the public about almost anything, no matter how petty or limited, can be enough to cause them to cave in. The administration has a tendency to give in rather than deal with issues. Unfortunately, they have been catering to their public too much and too often so that the public knows the timidity of the municipality and takes it for service.

I would strongly recommend against a symbolic book buring protest. Some of our older patrons have numbers tatooed on their forearms. For protesters to use such tactics would only harden the prejudices of the community. Reach out rather than condemn.
So if I understand things, use of the word "Palestine" will get you thrown out of the Library? It would also be sort of fun to do an experiment, and get a picture of an Israeli child holding a grenade with hebrew writing on it, and see what sort of fuss followed.]

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