Apparently Danish-Iranian artist Firoozeh Bazrafkan didn’t learn her lesson back in September when a Danish high court found her guilty of racism for making anti-Islam comments. Now she has put together a bold art gallery exhibition that is guaranteed to further offend the hair-trigger sensibilities of European Muslim fundamentalists and their multiculturalist abettors.
Unambiguously entitled “Blasphemy,” the exhibition in the small town of Skanderborg in central Denmark consists of the shredded remains of a Koran piled onto an Islamic prayer rug. “I want to continue to remind people that it’s okay to disagree,” says Bazrafkan, who is particularly critical of Iran’s Islamic regime as well as religion in general. “But it takes place under democratic rules” – an undeniably reasonable position, but she’s not up against reasonable forces.
Bazrafkan has a history of such provocative – sometimes sexually so – art installations and performance art pieces against either the Iranian regime or Islam. At an art installation called “Infidel” in 2007, she highlighted with a yellow marker the word “infidel” in a Koran every time it appeared (347 by her count). She also posted a video online of herself at the Arhus Museum on International Women’s Day in 2013, snipping and ripping her way out of a burqa and headscarf until she stands unencumbered in Western jeans and blouse, hair uncovered. In a new video performance, she strips naked and covers a Koran with her clothes, while another artist recites passages from it.
In 2010 she posted a video of herself in red heels and short skirt, lashing an open Koran a hundred times with a cat o’ nine tails in a protest against the Iranian regime’s flogging and stoning laws. In a video posted in early 2011, entitled “This is How I Celebrate the Iranian Islamic Revolution,” Bazrafkan jumps rope in high heels and halter top for a minute-and-a-half on a poster-sized photograph of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s glowering face.
In yet another video, she stands holding handwritten signs in English attacking the Iranian theocracy for silencing its critics with imprisonment, torture, and execution. “They commit murder in the name of God and hide the evidence,” one sign says. She urges her fellow citizens that “we must not deny ourselves to reach freedom and democracy,” “the right to live as a free human being.” In an art installation called “Allah O Akbar,” she presented the “decapitated head” of the former Iranian president, claiming “If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can kill people in God’s name so can I. I have beheaded him. The work symbolizes his death.”
“I do my best to get the point out in my artwork and installations because I want to criticize the Iranian regime my way,” she said in an interview with The Copenhagen Post. “If I want to be angry, I should have the right to be angry and call the Islamic regime anything I want. The state shouldn’t go in and take my rights.”
In September 2013 Bazrafkan was fined 5,000 kroner for violating Danish anti-racism legislation after publishing a blog entry in a newspaper in December 2011, in which she stated:
I am very convinced that Muslim men around the world rape, abuse and kill their daughters. This is, according to my understanding as a Danish-Iranian, due to a defective and inhumane culture – if you can even call it a culture at all. But you can say, I think, that it is a defective and inhumane religion whose textbook, the Koran, is more immoral, deplorable and crazy than manuals of the two other global religions combined.
Bazrafkan had copied the text from an article published by free speech activist Lars Pedersen, and made some of her own additions (Pedersen too was convicted of racism after publishing it in an online newspaper). She explained that:
I wrote it as an artistic manifesto to show that we cannot say what we want and we cannot criticize Islamic regimes. I wanted to show Lars support because, as a Danish Iranian, I know what a big problem Islamic regimes are in both Iran and the Middle East. These Islamic codes give men the rights to do whatever they want to women and children and I think it’s disgusting. They also prevent people in Iran from discussing and saying what they want. This is what I wanted to criticize.
In the Copenhagen Post interview, she was asked, “Can you not see why the court found your blog to be offensive?” She replied,
The court argued that what I wrote about Muslim men was condescending and a generalization. But that’s unfair, because there are many Islamic codes that are being used by Islamic men to justify their actions against women and children.
It’s important to remember that I did not write that ALL Muslim men committed horrible acts and used Islamic codes to justify them, I wrote that Muslim men around the world can do these things because it is allowed according to these codes. It’s not the same thing. For example, Muslims around the world protested at the Mohammed cartoons, and doctors around the world misdiagnose patients, but not all Muslims protested, and not all doctors misdiagnose.
When asked if she was “unfairly singling Islam out for critique,” Bazrafkan pointed out that she has also been critical of Judaism and Christianity. “But I was born in Iran as a Muslim. I have family members in Iran who don’t have the same democratic rights and freedom to express their anger as I do.”
When asked whether she has been threatened in response to the blog post, she replied, “One person said he wanted to chop me up and feed me to his dogs. I reported it to the police but they didn’t charge him because the threats weren’t threatening enough. I also know that there are websites where the Iranian secret police discuss wanting to kill me because I am an apostate.” Elsewhere she has said that she receives daily threats and harassment: “There are those who harass me and call me words like whore, ugly bitch, tell me to burn in hell and so on, but there are also those who send me direct death threats… They write that if they meet me, they would gladly send me to another world and that they are ready to go to jail for it.”
As for the need for anti-racism legislation, she asserted that it should not be used to protect religion. “My text criticized Muslim men, which does not constitute a race,” Bazrafkan said in a declaration of basic logic that seems to escape many. “We should be able to discuss [religion]. My right to criticize religion is even protected by article 10 of the European Court for Human Rights, which protects my freedom of expression and I was disappointed the court did not protect this right.”
It remains to be seen how much controversial attention Firoozeh Bazrafkan’s new art installation “Blasphemy” will draw; she’s certainly not as prominent a lightning rod for fundamentalist hatred as, say, fellow apostate Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But as a fearless female challenger of Islam and critic of the totalitarian Iranian regime, she may get there.
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