Tag Archives: Iraq

“creative freedom is being undermined…”

Dear President Jackson,

I am writing to urge you to reconsider your recent decision to suspend the
exhibition “Virtual Jihadi” by artist Wafaa Bilal. I encourage you to reopen
this exhibition immediately, and to engage in an open discussion with the
many concerned people in your community about the important issues this
exhibition has raised.

Our institutions of higher education must be committed to the open exchange
of ideas. Certainly Mr. Bilal’s artistic work asks difficult questions, but
these questions are valuable to reflect upon and debate, not to censor.

As I am sure you are aware, Mr. Bilal is a highly respected artist, known
for his work that allows us to think about situations that Iraqi citizens
must live within, as well as our relationships to the ongoing conflict in
Iraq. This particular work also raises questions about the nature of many
role-playing and “shooter” video games, which many students play without
thinking of its representations. Within these contexts, “Virtual Jihadi”
must be considered as a platform for discussion and interpretation.

RPI’s Art Department is very highly regarded because it is known for
encouraging and creating intelligent work that contributes to society. It is
disturbing that creative freedom is being undermined for fulfilling its

Surely, you are under intense pressure as this incident increasingly gains
attention. Please show that you respect the intelligence of your faculty,
your students, and the various communities that look to RPI to be a place of
learning, creativity, and thought. Open Wafaa Bilal’s exhibition and allow
people to engage and debate.


Joanna Spitzner
Assistant Professor
College of Visual and Performing Arts
Syracuse University


“may we crumble and fall into the arms of truth, love and compassion”

to: president@rpi.edu

I feel strongly urged to write you expressing great support for the
work of Wafaa Bilal. Having met him over fourteen years ago when he
was in the beginning of pursuing his Fine Arts Degree at the
University of New Mexico, I have watched this young talent, who at the
time spoke broken, yet strong English, grow into a very expressive,
poignant, and prolific artist/activist from extremely unusual odds.
Sure, his work crawls under the skins of cozy Americans, that may
prefer to insulate themselves from the reality of this war they
blindly support, but that is not what needs to happen at this point in
time, as indeed WE are responsible for the history that is being made
The message he is providing is one of truth. Perhaps it is the other
side of the pendulum, and war and hatred is the constant. But
ultimately, it is as if his work acts as a metaphorical finger that
pokes a hole through the cloud of ignorance so that we Americans (who
pride themselves on intellect and wisdom) can see the blue light of
clarity and intelligence.
How many times do we voice our opinions about this war, in our
rhetoric banter over cocktail parties and classroom halls, endless
emails and cell phone calls? We have the luxury of discussing this
war. Meanwhile, there are those who are living this war. Day in day
out watching their homes, their families their history, their culture,
their beliefs, constantly having to update their identity for
survival, meanwhile, we complain about our mortgage crisis. And at the
end of the day, my generation, where my peers are going to school to
learn to build these games, they tune out and plug into the deepest
distraction known to man, to strategize and play out that in which
they can not process in their own reality. The generation that
preceded mine and theirs before them, as I am 33 yrs old, is a
generation that feels the tremendous burden of saving this injured
country, after surviving the Vietnam monstrosity. Seeing the
assassination of JFK, MLK, and watching the murders of the Kent State
kids, had a deep psychological impact that i could never imagine. From
waving flowers in front of guns to becoming a generation that placed
those flowers so far and down that all we can see is ammunition, must
have a low lying level of impenetrable unresolved guilt that needs to
be healed and transformed so that my generation can have a role model,
a guide, as to what to do when this war falls in our hands. Instead,
we are looked on without respect, and told subliminally that we are
unwanted in the resolution. No wonder we turn to our computers, and
find our identity on myspace pages, and act out our aggression through
video games. The bridge has got to be built.
We may not be stoned and protesting that our boys be brought home on
the steps of the White House, we learned from the baby boomer’s
generation that it doesn’t work. Our protests have more mechanics; the
emotive qualities don’t take the form of violence out in the streets:
mass pandemonium. We learned this, too, didn’t work.
Perhaps what we learned from the generations before us, is that our
tactics must change. We must get straight to the heart of ignorance,
and that pleas and cries won’t work, but perhaps hitting home, with
truth straight to the bone and marrow, will.
We are a society that unplugs and distracts in order to cope.
Intellect, logic and critical thinking are to be used in dealing with
our emotions, no longer can we use our feelings with our emotions.
We have to speak to those who feed this collective consciousness of
war,the hate machine.
Hatred has no ears, so this is complicated. Anger has no rational, so
this tricky. Fear has no compassion, so this gets murky.
Wafaa Bilal’s work, cuts straight to the point. He has utilized his
weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and stereotypical target and transformed
them into strengths, courage and education. Can you imagine being him?
Can you imagine what it must be like to come from that regime, family
killed, imprisoned, having nothing, coming here into the arms of hope
and promise. He beat odds that you and I can only read about, and may
use some other handicap in our own lives to dull down his experience.
He’s like a moving target that dares to sit still and says to his
enemies, i am here, and if you can not come here, i am online, i will
meet you there.
Look how many people wanted him to die.
The move your department made in shutting down his show was a symbol.
It was a symbol of fear that feeds into the powers that run off of
hatred. The root of hatred is ignorance.
I have much compassion at this moment for you and your peers, your
colleagues, your uppers, this supposed democracy, and this country.
I have compassion that fear and inferiority keep the truth from
flowing freely.
I have faith in the power of truth, that it will, by virtue of the
root of truth=LOVE, seep into your resistance and find it’s way,
disrupting your sleep, moving your consciousness and guiding your
impetus in it’s direction.
I don’t think it’s sad, as Wafaa has said, that you allowed the show
to be shut down. I told him to be glad, for it is really a glorious
day, because it means, his message IS WORKING. And now this is an
opportunity, for his work to undergo a metamorphosis, to transform.
May the light of truth shine into your darkness, for this message he
conveys WILL BE HEARD from the marrow of your bone, even if your skin
reacts otherwise.
Thank you for reading this. I wish you great transformation.

may we crumble and fall into the arms of truth, love and compassion.

Wafaa Bilal

Dear Shirley Jackson–

I can only imagine the confluence of factors that led you and RPI to shut “Virtual Jihadi,” Wafaa Bilal’s provocative art exhibit there. I ask you to reconsider that decision and to do whatever you can to reopen the exhibit and make it plain for all to hear why you think it’s a vital addition to the conversation in America today concerning our military operations in Iraq and our future relationship with the Iraqi people.

Just this week, Democratic candidate for president Barack Obama is having to beat back accusations that he is Muslim, more evidence that the taint of association with anything Islamic or Middle Eastern has reached some new lowest level of scorn and suspiciousness in our country.

Iraqi-American Wafaa Bilal’s work, I think you know, directly and powerfully addresses this cultural bias, which is being fanned all around, in Washington, in Hollywood, on the news and on the internet. This is the American ideal turned on its head, our stormy “melting pot” culture’s history of ignorance embraced rather than its history of tolerance and acceptance and celebration of difference.

I know where thinking people stand on these issues. I hope you will join us by doing everything in your power to reopen Mr Bilal’s exhibit and to help explain why reopening it matters.

Thank you.
John Tomasic