Critics are crying double standard over The New York Times’ decision to run an image last week of the Virgin Mary smeared in elephant dung after refusing to print sketches of the Prophet Muhammad.
The newspaper printed Friday an image in its Art & Design section of “The Holy Virgin Mary,” a 1996 painting by the artist Chris Ofili, alongside an article about the owner’s decision to sell the work at a June 30 auction in London.
The painting, described in the article as an “eight-foot-high depiction of the Virgin Mary encrusted with a lump of elephant dung and collaged bottoms from pornographic magazines,” ignited a furor when it was first unveiled at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999.
As Clay Waters pointed out Friday on the Media Research Center’s NewsBusters blog, The New York Times repeatedly has refused to run drawings of Muhammad. The newspaper released a statement saying it avoids “material deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities” after the deadly January attack by Muslim militants on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s office in France.
“Under Times standards, we do not normally publish images or other material deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities. After careful consideration, Times editors decided that describing the cartoons in question would give readers sufficient information to understand today’s story,” said the statement.
Mr. Waters asked, “So why does Ofili’s dung-clotted Virgin Mary get a pass?”
A request for comment late Monday to The New York Times was not immediately returned.
The appearance of “The Holy Virgin Mary” in the newspaper’s print and online editions touched off a rash of criticism from conservatives, who accused The New York Times of hypocrisy in its treatment of Christians versus Muslims.
“The New York Times’ hypocrisy regarding displays of ‘offensive’ religious imagery runs unabated,” said Walid Shoebat on the website Freedom Outpost.
In a Monday post on The Daily Caller, Jim Treacher said the newspaper’s “contradiction” boils down to cowardice.
“Nobody at the ‘Newspaper of Record’ cares about offending religious people. They just don’t want to be killed for blasphemy,” said Mr. Treacher. “They know that offended Christians are unlikely to attack them, so they don’t give a second thought to publishing images like this.”
Last month, two armed men with ties to Islam were killed by police as they attempted to storm a “draw Muhammad” art contest in Garland, Texas, the latest violent confrontation sparked by depictions of the Muslim prophet.
Many Muslims consider drawings of Muhammad to be akin to idol worship. Pamela Geller, the activist who sponsored the Texas contest, was accused of “an exercise in bigotry and hatred posting as a blow for freedom” in a New York Times op-ed.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside a “draw Muhammad” contest Friday sponsored by ex-Marine Jon Ritzheimer in Phoenix, but there were no arrests or violence.
Mr. Ofili told The New York Times in 1999 that his decision to use elephant dung was “a way of raising the paintings up from the ground and giving them a feeling that they’ve come from the earth rather than simply being hung on a wall.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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