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Martin Luther King Vandalized Slavery Exhibit

Rabbi Daniel Lapin

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Today's art glorifies nihilism instead of God.

Of course you never saw that headline. As far as we know, Reverend Martin Luther King never confronted a museum exhibit venerating slave owners and had he done so, we have no way of knowing whether he would have vandalized it. However we do know that this past Friday, Israel's ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, wrecked a Stockholm museum display that glorified Islamic Jihadist, Hanadi Jaradat, the 29 year old lawyer and suicide bomber who murdered 22 Jews and Moslems at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa last year.

Was Mazel right or wrong to damage the display? Today's observance of Martin Luther King Day can help provide perspective and show that the terms 'right' and 'wrong' have no meaning without reference to common coordinates of morality. Even now there are Islamic slave traders in the Sudan who obviously would not agree that slavery is intrinsically evil. We would say they are wrong. However, we would merely be highlighting the existence of two utterly incompatible moral frameworks, theirs and ours.

Dror Feiler, the Israeli-born artist who created the offensive display and who characterized Ambassador Mazel's actions as those of a "hooligan" believes that all "art" is sacrosanct. The Swedish Museum of National Antiquities and its director, Kristian Berg, agree with him, explaining that "violence against art is never defensible."

On the other hand, Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, yesterday supported Mazel and thanked him for taking action at the Stockholm museum. He said, "I think that our ambassador acted as was necessary, the phenomenon was so grave that it was impossible not to react on the spot."

Ora Regev, whose son was killed in the attack at Maxim restaurant, said "He did exactly what needed to be done." Orly Almog, who lost five family members in the suicide bombing, said Mazel's act was "100 percent justified." So was Ambassador Mazel right or wrong? This question directs us to the heart of western civilization's current crisis. Are we unified by one moral framework to which we all subscribe and which can help define right and wrong, or not?

By defining art we can analyze whether that homage to homicide floating in a pool of "blood" deserved adulation or attack. Is art anything at all concocted by any self-anointed artist? If so, what is the difference between art and the maudlin outpourings of any diseased ego?

Traditionally, we knew how to tell the difference. First, art took real talent. It was not something my four-year-old could have produced and which those high priests of art, critics and gallery owners, would subsequently declare to be art.

Second, it promoted civilization rather than barbarism.

Third, it brought us beauty rather than ugliness.

Finally, and most importantly, it glorified God rather than nihilism. That is why until relatively recently, most art was religious in nature. There was no secular art-almost by definition, secularism was ugly and barbaric.

Recognizing that in order to be art it must lift us heavenwards, on the original score to all his compositions, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the words, Soli Deo Gloria, meaning Glory to God Alone. In stunning irony, the narcissistic display damaged by Ambassador Mazel had a musical accompaniment. It consisted of loudspeakers playing an endless loop of a work entitled "My heart is swimming in blood'' composed by, none other than God-fearing J. S. Bach.

Traditionally, destroying art verged on blasphemy. Sadly, today art is still revered while its standards have been obliterated. Those who would have praised the emperor's new clothes, praise Maplethorpe's pornography. Sophisticates with deep moral insecurities adored Andres Serrano's Piss Christ which depicted a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine. Given that urinating on something is one of humanity's most vulgar ways of communicating contempt, this was clearly calculated to outrage the feelings of the last unprotected group in America-Christians.

New York elites flocked to the Brooklyn Museum's 1999 exhibition entitled "Sensation." Displaying works like Chris Ofili's dung-bedecked Madonna, it was more of a Christianity-debasing, feces extravaganza yet few possessed the moral compass to denounce it. Once again self-indulgence masquerading as art trumped morality.

The Biblically-based moral framework that once unified all of western civilization has already been exiled from Europe. Not only have right and wrong lost their meaning but art is now indistinguishable from degenerate propaganda designed to degrade. Rome let in the barbarians and they toppled the empire from within. For us in America, this is both the pernicious promise and the sinister legacy of secular fundamentalism. Martin Luther King Day can perhaps be best observed by contemplating how the God of the Bible, worshipped by both Bach and Reverend Martin Luther King, is the same God whose values are now under assault in America. Defending those values will restore the moral confidence each of us needs to help liberate America from the secular domination of our culture that has so harmed our institutions of civilization. Perhaps one day, we too will echo the closing words of King's famous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial forty years ago, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, is president of Toward Tradition, a bridge-building organization providing a voice for all Americans who defend the Judeo-Christian values vital for our nation's survival.

Read this article on the Toward Tradition website. Reprinted with permission.

1/26/04



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