Written by: Shyamol Shikdar

Passion for Freedom is a UK based organization that aims to create space for artists and writers who discuss subjects omitted in politically correct circles[1]. Its goals include promoting value of individual’s freedom and the advancement of the society through critically informed debates. It also organizes an annual art festival in London where international artists can exercise their freedom of speech.

Recognition for Writers

Every year, Passion for Freedom recognizes independent journalists and bloggers who stand against the establishment and writes risking their lives. This year, among the six of the acknowledged writers were Avijit Roy and Washikur Rahman Babu. The recognition page for the journalists carries the following dedication to Avijit Roy[2]:

Avijit Roy was a Bangladeshi American online activist, writer, and blogger. He was the founder of the Bangladeshi Mukto-Mona (freethinkers) website, an Internet community for freethinkers, rationalists, skeptics, atheists and humanists of mainly Bengali and other South Asian descent, which was one of the nominees of the Bobs-Best of Online Activism award. Roy on the founding mission of Mukto-Mona: “Our aim is to build a society which will not be bound by the dictates of arbitrary authority, comfortable superstition, stifling tradition, or suffocating orthodoxy but would rather be based on reason, compassion, humanity, equality and science.” Roy was a prominent advocate of free expression in Bangladesh, coordinating international protests against government censorship and imprisonment of bloggers. He described his writing as “taboo” in Bangladesh and received death threats from fundamentalist bloggers for his political articles. He was hacked to death by unknown assailants in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 26 February 2015.

The dedication to Washikur Rahman Babu, who was killed in Dhaka on 30 March 2015, by machete-wielding Islamist militants, states, citing Imran H Sarker: He was targeted because open-minded and progressive bloggers are being targeted in general. They are killing those who are easy to access, when they get the opportunity.

Other recognized journalists include Raif Badawi of Saudi Arabia who was sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison for “insulting” Islam, Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist, and Masoumeh Alinejad-Ghomi, an Iranian writer living in exile in UK.

Art Festival

This year’s Passion for Freedom Art Festival, which was held during September, featured many artists, especially women, from around the world. The exhibition included a piece by the young Iranian artist Atena Farghadani[3], who was sentenced to prison for 12 years for making art deemed unflattering of the Iranian regime. Farghadani was given this draconian sentence because she dared to draw the members of the Iranian parliament as monkeys, cows and other animals. We reproduce below the piece that she posted on Facebook.

Atena Farghadani, dared to draw the members of the Iranian parliament as monkeys, cows and other animals, and received a 12-year prison sentence.

Atena Farghadani, dared to draw the members of the Iranian parliament as monkeys, cows and other animals, and received a 12-year prison sentence.

During the course of the exhibition, the organizers were forced to remove a series of seven satirical tableaux, by artist Mimsy, featuring the children’s toys Sylvanian Families titled “Isis Threaten Sylvania.” A report in The Guardian states[4]:

In Isis Threaten Sylvania, rabbits, mice and hedgehogs go about their daily life, sunning themselves on a beach, drinking at a beer festival or simply watching television, while the menacing figures of armed jihadis lurk in the background. “Far away, in the land of Sylvania, rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, mice and all woodland animals have overcome their differences to live in harmonious peace and tranquility. Until Now,” reads the catalogue note. “MICE-IS, a fundamentalist Islamic terror group, is threatening to dominate Sylvania, and annihilate every species that does not submit to their hardline version of sharia law.”
The Guardian further adds, “The decision to remove the work from Passion for Freedom came after the Mall Galleries consulted the police, who raised ‘a number of serious concerns regarding the potentially inflammatory content of Mimsy’s work’.”

Below we show three of the removed displays. We note that the United Kingdom, a country which prides in its citizens’ freedom of expression, failed to provide security against sheer intimidation.

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These displays titled “ISIS threaten Sylvania” were removed from the Passion for Freedom Art Festival in London because Police thought they were inflammatory.

Free exchange of opinions, without bodily threat, is essential in the advancement of knowledge and this civilization. Capitulation to threat of violence will eventually lead to a dystopia desired by the extreme of the extremists.

Editor’s note: Official Press release by Passion for Freedom. Please click this link.

References:

1. http://www.passionforfreedom.co.uk/
2. http://www.passionforfreedom.co.uk/journalists-2015/
3. http://blogs.new.spectator.co.uk/2015/09/londona-stunning-passion-for-freedom-exhibition-is-worth-an-hour-of-anyones-time/
4. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/sep/26/sylvanian-families-isis-freedom-of-expression-exhibition