Demopaths and their Dupes: The Politics of Art at PSU

At Pennsylvania State University, a serious case of politically correct suppression of free speech emerges. According to an Article by Jessica Remitz in the PSU’s Digital Collegian, the University has decided to cancel an exhibit by Joshua Stulman on terrorism because the exhibit:

“did not promote cultural diversity” or “opportunities for democratic dialogue”

Such logic, despite Stulman’s claim not to understand, is fairly clear.

Cultural Diversity — By criticizing Palestinian terrorism, Stulman showed his cultural imperialism, since by more diverse cultural standards, one could call these folks “freedom fighters,” or, with a bit less cognitive egocentrism, “martyrs for Jihad.” Who are we to impose our cultural uniformity on these people, and their countless supporters in Palestinian and Arab culture? (Answer, for those who might be confused here… we shouldn’t.) Such an exhibit, by criticizing Palestinians for siding with suicide terrorists, was implicitly if not explicitly aggressive and negated their culture.

Opportunities for democratic dialogue — here we slip over into the realm of Newspeak. The phrase means one cannot hope to dialogue with Muslims if one puts them on the defensive. To promote democratic (presumably understood as inclusive) dialogue one needs to be more open and less critical.

The professor from the Department of Visual Arts who cancelled the exhibit explained that Stulman’s controversial images did not mesh with the university’s educational mission:

The decision to cancel the exhibit came after reviewing Penn State’s Policy AD42: Statement on Nondiscrimination and Harassment and Penn State’s Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate, he wrote.

In other words, for those still too thick to understand, to promote outrage and rejection of Arab Muslim practices (like suicide terrorism!) is actually a form of hate-speech because it encourages people to dislike this culture.

Sensing this implied concern about hate-speech, Stulman commented:

“It’s not about hate. I don’t hate Muslims. This is not about Islam,” Stulman said. “This is about terrorism impacting the Palestinian way of life and Israel way of life.”

This reminds me of when David Cook first submitted his manuscript on Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature for publication, two of the three readers recommended against publication since the book constituted “hate speech.”

Now it’s not that the book is not about hate speech. Indeed, Cook remarked that every day he worked on this literature he felt like he needed to take a bath to wash off the relentless hatred that he encountered on every page. What they really meant was that the book chronicled such vicious hate speech on the part of Muslim thinkers that readers would be strongly influenced towards a dislike of Muslims — and certainly the kinds who join organizations like Hamas, Hizbullah, al Quaeda and Islamic Jihad.

Thus to preserve “cultural diversity” and to prevent the reading public from experiencing such negative feelings, these enlightened scholars, much like the administrators at PSU, feel that they should protect us and the potential objects of our disapproval. In so doing they make a category error. To denounce as hate speech that which reveals the presence of hate speech is like arresting the fireman and letting the pyromaniac escape.

This is also, as one of my students suggested to me last week, a form of left-wing fascism, a manipulation of the public that arrogates to itself the right to make up our own minds for us on what we should be exposed to and what we should feel. And it certainly reflects the kinds of problems that plague the MSM right now in their decisions on what we should see, and how to frame it. As one media mogul put it during the Frantifada last November:

“Politics in France is heading to the right and I don’t want rightwing politicians back in second, or even first place because we showed burning cars on television,” says M. Dassier, owner of France1 TV.”

But, you might ask, this is the exact opposite of decisions made to allow certain forms of hate speech to flourish, as in the case of the Swedes and the imam of Stockholm. Isn’t that the opposite effect? And if so, why does it so often seem that the voice being strangled for the sake of keeping hate speech down is the voice pointing out the existence of the hate speech?

The article gives us a clue.

Stulman said advertisements for the event were defaced in the Patterson and School of Visual Arts buildings, one of which had a large swastika on it.

Stulman, who is Jewish, said he felt threatened and abused by the Nazi symbol and is concerned for his artwork and his personal well-being.

How much of this sudden and mysterious change of heart of the administration comes from aggressive Muslims students, angry at the negative exposure this exhibit might give to causes they hold dear to heart, invoking the “zero-tolerance for hate speech” clause even as they threaten violence if they don’t get their way?

And how much of the appeal to the law reflects a strategy of invoking laws they have contempt for (no sign here of denouncing hate speech among the suicide terrorists), thus creating a climate in which they can continue to spread their hate unopposed?

And how much of the reaction of Professor Garoian represents a real (if quite foolish) moral confusion and how much just plain cowardice?

Update.

Another article, presumably by someone who’s not a close friend of Stulman’s, in the CentreDaily finally gives us an idea of what the Nazi symbolism is:

In one of Stulman’s paintings, an Arab-looking man is extending his right arm in a Nazi salute. On his headgear is written type in Arabic, translated as “I am a murderer.” The colors of the painting match the colors of the Palestinian flag: red, black, white and green.

It is meant to shock and challenge, but it is not an anti-Muslim statement, Stulman said. The painting is to show “the appropriation of Nazi symbols and its use in Hamas and other terrorist organizations,” he said.

“This is a terrorist, and I think anyone who sees this painting will see a terrorist,” he said.

I still don’t know what’s going on here. But I do know, for example, that Mein Kampf is a hot item in both the Arab World and in Palestinian circles from before 2000; that in our Pallywood movie there’s a sequence near the beginning where the Palestinians unfurl a Nazi flag, and it’s hard to imagine that they’re doing this to say “The Israelis are Nazis”; that one of the members of the Hamas party team, known affectionately as “Hitler,” won by a landslide in the most recent elections.

Acccording to the description, moreover, there’s nothing specifically about Islam in this particular piece. The symbols are Nazi and Palestinian. Those worried about a claim that Islam is developing Nazi-like traits actually reveal their own unconscious fear of precisely that, a response similar to the outrage over the Danish cartoon depicting Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Scream about the stuff that’s most accurate because it hurts the most.

I could go on and on. I am personally not inclined to play the Nazi card, but I will not have people pretend that somehow it’s as shocking to have the Israelis call the Palestinians Nazis, as vice-versa. That’s the worst kind of moral-relativist even-handedness. It’s the kind of sloppy thinking that has us in such bad shape.

21 Responses to Demopaths and their Dupes: The Politics of Art at PSU

  1. igout says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Such people think they can simply declare themselves open cities and the barbarians will simply nod poilitely and pass them by. Idiots.

  2. sunship says:

    Josh Stulman appropriates Nazi symbology when it suits him and his hateful message. That you think you can quote from an article (written by his best friend, by the way) in a college paper without seeing the paintings in question is calls into question any credibility you have.

    i did find his language a redolent of victim language. and thanks for your info on the author of the article. await more substantive criticisms.

  3. sunship says:

    I know Josh, and he really doesn’t have the intellectual power to send a complex political message as he claims he does; he is merely getting talking points from his sponsoring organization (Hillel). His work is about hatred of Palestinians. I have seen it.

    can you be more specific and substantive? is there any way to see the pieces in question? i’m very interested in what you think is “about hatred of palestinians”.

    I disagree with the cancelling of the show. I disagree with it because I believe hateful people will get their just desserts in the public sphere.

    that has so far not happened for many really hateful people, so i’m not at all sure i have the same faith as you in the intelligence of the public, at least under the dominion of political correctness. but i’d be interested in some of your examples of where hateful people have gotten their just desserts in public.

  4. sunship says:

    You also fail to see that every day a conservative and religious man preaches his message in front of Willard Building where thousands of students pass every day and debate him openly. No attempt to stop him by the University.

    what does he say? i’m under the impression that “conservative” is not beyond the pale, whereas denunciation of suicide terrorism apparently is…”

    You fail to see the large placards and installations put up by a conservative religious student group along the mall leading to Patee Library with images of fetuses and images from the Holocaust. No attempt to stop it by the University.

    i assume you deduce from this that the administration is not against hateful speech. but that just raises the problem, why all of a sudden in this case? your answer: it’s really hateful stuff. my question: what about it is so hateful?

  5. RL says:

    useful idiots.

  6. sunship says:

    why all of a sudden in this case?

    The response from Garoian and the administration that the exhibition being sponsored by an organization outside the university makes the exhibition a commercial one is credible in this case.

    what outside organization, and what’s the commercial element?

    The question I ask, though, is whether “appropriating” Nazi symbols to demonize Israelis would be perfectly acceptable, if sponsored by, say…CAIR. The answer, I think, would be no, and for the same reasons Josh’s nexus of outside sponsorship and controversial imagery was cancelled.

    You still haven’t told us what the “appropriatinng of Nazi symbols that he does consists of.

    Garoian and the PSU administration have offered to let the exhibition go on, if the outside organization drops its sponsorship.

    As for faith in the ability of the public sphere to regulate speech: It’s where it best occurs. Freedom of speech is important. I draw my faith from the accumulated history of liberal society…at least without going into such detail that would be beyond the scale for a single comment on this blog.

    if you’ve seen LB’s posts, you’d know how much commenters have been known to blog on at this site, but anyway give me one example.

  7. sunship says:

    It should be noted, that in addition to the commercial art nexus described above, Garoian and the university is not saying that, as a student of PSU, should he display his work anywhere else he would be subject to sanction.

  8. RL says:

    Sunship asks:
    The question I ask, though, is whether “appropriating” Nazi symbols to demonize Israelis would be perfectly acceptable, if sponsored by, say…CAIR. The answer, I think, would be no, and for the same reasons Josh’s nexus of outside sponsorship and controversial imagery was cancelled.

    I’m not clear here. You’ve been quite sparse on details about either the outside sponsoring and the nature of the comparison (i presume) btw the Palestinian terrorists and the nazis.

    I don’t personally believe in the even-handed principle that if you can’t compare the israelis to the nazis (virtually no common elements that aren’t shared by a wide variety of other groups, like they kill their enemies and sometimes kill civilians as collateral damage), then you can’t do that with the palestinians either.

    as far as i can make out, the parallels between nazism (active cataclysmic apocalyptic beliefs linked to anticipation of dominating the world) and islamic jihadism are terrifying, including the paranoia, hate-mongering, cult of death, sacrifice of their own children on the altar of collective honor, etc.

    so the notion that you’re demonizing the palestinians by comparing them to the nazis — as if the nazis are so non-human that any human cannot be compared to them — strikes me as a category error of the first order. the nazis were human beings and illustrated the worst of human nature. they did so by arguing that the jews are sub/superhuman and need to be destroyed.

    to say that the palestinian leadership/islamists/arab media are engaged in the same dehumanization of both israelis and jews is not demonizing. just as i said in the post on this subject: drawing attention to hate speech is not hate speech.

    now if you have some detail on how JS is using the imagery of nazis in dishonest and demonizing ways, please tell us.

  9. sunship says:

    what outside organization, and what’s the commercial element?

    Hillel. They’re paying for the exhibition. The exhibition space is meant for student/faculty artworks. Once an organization like Hillel sponsors the exhibit, it no longer is only the student’s work being presented.

    apparently this has happened before with no problem…

    You still haven’t told us what the “appropriating of Nazi symbols that he does consists of.

    Josh uses the “Nazi salute” in his painting to make a political/social statement to criticize some supposed appropriation of Nazi imagery by Palestinians.

    supposed? have you spent any time at PMW and seen how much real appropriation of Nazi imagery, symbolism and ritual goes on in Palestinian culture right now?

    Someone else uses Nazi imagery to make a political/social statement about his artwork and he suddenly is against the imagery.

    As I said, I found his comments on the swastika a bit disengenuous, and given his use of them, even more so.

    And really, to speak of appropriating symbols for social purposes as a negative is absurd if you spend even a moment to think about it (that’s why I put it inside quotation marks). In reality, it privileges one group to use those symbols to make a statement over another.

    i’m sorry, i don’t know what you mean here. can you explain?

    You can do your own research into the constructions of symbols.

    give me one example.

    consider the treatment “then” and “now” of

    Africans
    Women
    Italians
    Irish
    Chinese
    Japanese
    Jews

    There doesn’t need to be sanction against an individual for there to be regulation of hate speech. So let the show go on, I say. The more people see the extreme, the more the rational center looks appealing.

    If i understand your point here, it’s that since the Holocaust, we have a politically correct approach that goes out of its way not to offend minorities. i agree and i approve. i was part of that sixties generation that learned to say not “negro” but “colored,” not “colored” but “black,” not “black,” but “afro-american”, not “afro-american,” but “african-american”…. and i didn’t object to that. i think people need to be treated with dignity.

    but i don’t take that as “the voice of the rational middle” so much as the voice of a deeply sobered generation that saw the madness that demonizing minorities could produce. what has horrified me since 2000 is the way that an Arab/Muslim voice that never accepted this politically correct restraint spilled over into the language esp of the “left” who began to demonize Israel and Zionism in ways that were indeed reminiscent of the last wave of genocidal madness to sweep over Europe, and the lack of common sense among the “public” to resist that swing.

    i look at the same data as you, and don’t see either the same causes or the same trajectory.

    You’d do well to take a broader view of history.

    ouch. that’s rough to say to a historian who prides himself on looking at trends over millennia. Can i appeal to your indulgence and modesty not to jump to premature conclusions about the nature and scope of my historical vision?

  10. sunship says:

    Well, I’m done here. I thought there would be some good discussion here, but you’re more interested in a dialectic of extremes.

    I think you’ve jumped the gun. I didn’t see your comments in the approve bin, so i answered other remarks without seeing yours.

    You are being willfully ignorant. I have provided far more detail than even the article you cited, and yet you fail to address the issue.

    hopefully i’ve done a bit better…

    You make broad assumptions based on literally no substantive information (see your statement re: “..Muslims students…” in this very post),

    where?

    and there’s nothing to stop YOU from framing the issue so that it suits your interests, without ever addressing the details I have provided.

    except my willingness to take you seriously. please reciprocate.

  11. sisu says:

    “We need to remain persistent and measured”

    We believe deeply that the denial of ‘life’s dark side in ourselves’ is the key to what’s wrong with the utopianist left world view, we captioned Max Ernst’s L’Ange du foyer painting above last year. (1937. Oil on canvas. 114

  12. RL says:

    Sisu, we need a reference here. but the point is well taken, and from a Jungian point of view, the more you deny the shadow (of yourself) the more power it has over you. i (like to) think that Jung had the grip of something like the Nazis over the Germans in mind when he made that point… but alas, his atrocious behavior vis-à-vis the Nazis suggest that he had troubles with his own shadow (as his Memories Dreams and Reflections reveals).

    Now we have a new form of this denial of the shadow: “Moral Europe”. It comes back to haunt not in the form of an evil fascist dark side coming up within european culture, but in the form of an external fascist dark side which, so much in denial about their own dark side (except insofar as they project it onto israel), the Europeans cannot see.

    if we survive this one, what incredible material we’ll have to work with in understanding the dynamics of civil societies.

  13. Sissy Willis says:

    What reference do you reference, sir? I shall do my best.

  14. Sissy Willis says:

    Well, there you are.

  15. Carol says:

    Fascinating post and comment thread. I would write more, but I need to learn more about the topic.

  16. RL says:

    i welcome any further information on this exhibit — description of exhibit items, more history. when will the mysterious Garoian answer his phone?

  17. “We need to remain persistent and measured”

    “To denounce as hate speech that which reveals the presence of hate speech is like arresting the fireman and letting the pyromaniac escape,” writes our Herculean blogfriend Richard of Augean Stables re the latest mind-numbing case of politically corr…

  18. Hillel is not an “outside organization” but a recognized student group.

  19. RL says:

    My feelings as well. I thought it was some slick PR outfit funded by some rich right-wing Jew… Anyone who knows how careful not to offend, not to take pro-Israel advocacy positions, understands the irony of claiming Hillel sponsorship as an unacceptable “outside sponsoring” orgnanization.

  20. [...] ing ahead with it or not. I think a close look at the issues in both this exhibit and the one at Penn State bear consideration, including [...]

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