First I would like to issue a challenge - is there another Canadian public library willing to show this exhibition in its entirety?
A few days ago I wrote about a failure of nerve on the part of the Côte Saint-Luc public library in the closure of an exhibition of photographs by slain photographer Zahra Kazemi in the library's gallery. Essentially, the library took down a number of photographs in the exhibition following complaints that they cast the Palestinian uprising in a favorable light and the Israeli government in a negative one. In response, Kazemi's son, Stephan Hachemi, insisted that the entire exhibition be closed down. This has been reported in numerous news sources - see here, here, and here for examples. Defending intellectual freedom is difficult at the best of times, requiring sensitivity, perseverance, and hard work. However, in this case it seems the library and the local government simply folded under the pressure.
Shortly after my post, a comment was posted to my blog by a member of the local arts community in the borough of Côte-Saint-Luc-Hampstead-Montreal West. This individual suggested that I contact Mayor Robert Libman with my concerns. So I did. I wrote him a hastily crafted email which you can read below along with Mayor Libman's response.
What strikes me about the Mayor's reply is the accusation that the borough was somehow 'hoodwinked' by Hachemi over the content of the exhibition. From my read of all available English language news reports on this event, there is no report even hinting at deceit on the part of Hachemi. If anything, he acted with nothing but integrity in insisting that his mother's exhibit be shown intact or not at all. I would be interested to know if the French language press is reporting anything different?
To: Chris Hammond-Thrasher
Subject: RÃÃÂ©f. : Zahra Kazemi exhibition closure and intellectual freedom
Date: Thu, 09 Jun 2005 06:32:32 -0700
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 oppressiveive 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
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
Pour : email@example.com
cc : firstname.lastname@example.org
Objet : Zahra Kazemi exhibition closure and intellectual freedom
On Tuesday, June 7th, I wrote a post in my blog (see
failure-of.html) suggesting that the CÃÃÂ´te Saint-Luc public library
had failed to uphold the intellectual freedom policies of the
Canadian Library Association by bowing to a complaint from the
public over the content of the exhibit.
While I am not one of your constituents, I am deeply troubled by
your decision to pull five photos from the exhibit based on their
political message. I have chosen to write to you at the suggestion
of one of your constituents who read my post.
Allow me to quote from the CLA policy on intellectual freedom: "It
is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate
access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity,
including those which some elements of society may consider to be
unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable... Libraries should
resist all efforts to limit the exercise of these responsibilities
while recognizing the right of criticism by individuals and groups."
I find it difficult to understand your actions as anything more
than political self interest at the expense of intellectual
freedom. Certainly freedom of artistic expression is more important
than this, and a public library is a perfect venue for Quebecers to
engage in a conversation that explores all sides of the issues
facing Israel today.
Chris Hammond-Thrasher, MLIS