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Civilized Clash

DW staff (th)
March 31, 2008

While Muslim leaders in Europe have expressed their unhappiness over what they call two artistic "provocations," there has been none of the violent reaction that some had feared would ensue.

Two actors sit on red chairs during "The Satanic Verses"
A controversial productionImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

A German stage production of "The Satanic Verses," as well as an anti-Islam short film made by a Dutch politician, are "pure provocation" towards Muslims, an Iranian writer living as an exile in Germany said Monday, March 31.

Writer Bahman Nirumand described the two productions as "psychological warfare" under the banner of artistic freedom. He said both productions would only serve Islamist radicalism.

"I can assure you that the fundamentalists are extremely gratified by it," he told Deutschlandradio Kultur, a national public radio channel. "They can use it to boost their position."

Both the play and the movie were like a game of tennis, Nirumand said, where one player takes advantage of the other's bad hits. He called on Western intellectuals to stop the provocation and take a more nuanced view of Islam.

"These allegedly artistic productions simply equate all Islam with violence," he said.

Public violence didn't occur

Bahman Nirumand
Nirumand called the play a "pure provocation"Image: picture alliance / dpa

Police had feared violent protests at the world theater premier of "The Satanic Verses," a controversial novel by Indian-born author Salman Rushdie. The opening came under police guard Sunday afternoon in Potsdam near Berlin.

German Muslims, while unhappy with the production, have largely ignored it. There have been suggestions that "insulting Islam" was a gimmick to attract audiences.

Although there were no threats of violence, police guarded the event as a precaution. No one protested Sunday.

While they see the production as a provocation, Muslims are not reacting violently, said Nurhan Soykan, a spokeswoman for the Central Council of Muslims in Germany.

"Our appeals to stay calm have made an impact within the Muslim community," Soykan said. "So we are happy that these provocateurs do not get more attention than they deserve."

Art or provocation?

Iranian Islamists shout slogans during a demonstration in front of the Danish embassy in Tehran
Danish cartoons provoked violent protests around the Muslim worldImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Director Uwe Laufenberg said "The Satanic Verses" production is not meant to be an attack against Islam or an attempt to cause controversy, but rather a chance to celebrate an important an literary work.

"I hope that it is also a chance to look at what the novel really is about," Laufenberg said.

The characters in the production include a prophet named Mahound, a thinly disguised reference to Mohammed. After its publication in 1988, author Rushdie was heavily criticized by Muslim leaders for insulting Islam. He had to hide for nearly a decade because Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, had ordered all Muslims to kill him.

Laufenberg said Rushdie's novel is one of unity and not "against someone."

The controversial premiere came just days after the release of "Fitna," a 16-minute Internet movie by right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, which caused outrage, but not violence among Muslims round the world.

There were fears that both "The Satanic Verses" and "Fitna" would cause violent reactions similar to those which spread after a series of cartoons making fun of the Prophet Mohammed first published in Danish newspapers.