Administrators at the National College of Arts, Pakistan’s leading arts college based in Lahore, are waiting to find out whether they will be charged with blasphemy, a crime punishable by death. Last summer, the college’s contemporary arts journal reproduced homoerotic paintings by Muhammad Ali depicting clerics alongside seminude young boys.
The controversy is the latest example of Pakistan’s institutions crumbling in the face of extremism and a sign that artistic expression here also is in danger.
The National College of Arts retracted its journal after receiving threats and a demand for both a public apology and the journal’s withdrawal from Jamaat ud Dawa, the charity wing for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which reportedly carried out the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008. The college pulled all issues of the journal from bookstores and dismissed the editorial board.
But despite the college’s swift response, a court chose to take up a petition calling for blasphemy charges against the institution. During the most recent court hearing, in mid-December, the editorial board’s lawyer said his clients had not wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings and were prepared to apologize.
Free speech advocates can hardly blame the National College of Arts for kowtowing to the demands of Jamaat ud Dawa: Those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan often fall victim to public violence before they can defend themselves in court.
Written By: Huma Yusufcontinue to source article at latitude.blogs.nytimes.com