Controversial Visions

July 4, 1776 — a date that lives on to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence and to celebrate liberation from the tyranny of an oppressive global empire. It was a day, like any other, marked by a decision made by a group of idealists in a small assembly room in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA, to ratify the radically egalitarian vision expressed by a visionary document.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the legendary figures of US history, who was the primary author of the Declaration, outlined his case for the separation of the thirteen American colonies from the British Empire, stating, unequivocally:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These words have since become one of the best-known and widely regarded statements of human rights the world over. Jefferson's document has since become the seminal text underlying all modern democracies, all of which may be traced back to this seminal event — the signing and acceptance of this document and it's vision by the continental congress.

And even so, the text and its author are not without controversy. At the time, this bold vision of the egalitarian rights of man and separation from a global empire were deemed radical to the point of being considered to be treasonous (by the British). And subsequently, the founding fathers have come to be criticized for being slave-owners and for holding double standards with respect to their slaves.

However, we must consider the fact that Jefferson's bold, controversial vision was, actually, in its inception, even more radical than we give him credit for. The original draft of the Declaration of Independence contained the following passage indicting the British Empire for the practice of human slavery and condemning slavery in no uncertain terms:

“[King George] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce…”

The sad reality was that the horrific practice of human trafficking and slavery, as practiced by the global, Christian British Empire and its colonies, was so widespread and entrenched in society, that this passage was deemed as being too controversial by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. They edited and amended Jefferson's draft to exclude this passage from the final draft that was adopted by the continental congress on July 4, 1776.

It took another 87 years until Abraham Lincoln, another legendary figure from US history, issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, to free all slaves in the United States. This executive order was controversial enough in the second half of the nineteenth century — one can only speculate on how much more controversial Jefferson's vision of radical egalitarianism would have been nearly 100 years earlier.

And yet, one can only wonder — what if the founding fathers had decided to leave that passage in — effectively to condemn the practice of slavery at the very outset — would that have given the modern civil rights movement a 100 year head-start? Would it have made the bloody, brutal US civil war unnecessary? Would we remember Jefferson, not Lincoln, as the heroic liberator of the slaves in America?

Controversy can often intimidate us from pursuing our visions — but one can only speculate on what the cost of abandoning or compromising on those visions might eventually be, in the long run!

At Horizon Cybermedia, we aim to hold true to our vision of pursuing the endless possibilities of modern digital media to redefine our cultural milieu. We aim for the horizon and we move boldly forward in our ongoing exploration of the constantly shifting seascape of digital media.

Do check out our current, ongoing web series, American Castle: the Secret World of William Randolph Hearst, and our YouTube channel.

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar,
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia.

Radical Islam Threatened by Hollywood

Not long ago, I ran across an article on the web—an Associated Press release—that included the following passage (quoted verbatim):

Elsewhere in the northwest, a car bomb exploded close to a movie theater in the city of Peshawar [in Pakistan], killing at least six people and wounding 80 others, witnesses and police officer Saleem Khan said. Authorities blamed militants that have targeted theaters before in the region, believing them to be un-Islamic.

The article, entitled U.N. seeks $543 million for Pakistan refugees, was originally published at this link. It has since been updated by the Associated Press and no longer includes the passage cited above. The same news story, Bomb at Pakistan movie house kills 6, may also be found at this link, which also contains a similar passage as follows:

Militants have targeted movie theaters in the region in the past, charging that the businesses violate the tenets of Islam. Pakistan’s Dawn News television channel reported that some theaters in the area have recently received threats from the Taliban, and that a few theater owners have shut down.

I find these passages to be particularly eye-opening as they clarify and put into sharp relief what radical Islam and, for that matter, any sort of religious extremism, represents to the world of culture and the arts—which naturally includes cinema. Religious extremists are invariably threatened by the arts because the arts represent freedom of expression and a representation of the truth. Religious extremists, like the Taliban and other repressive theocracies of the world, which base their very existence on propaganda and authoritarian dogma, invariably find themselves at odds with artists and artistes of all kinds.

Islamic radicalism has always been about repression—the suppression of individual freedoms and the violation of human rights. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the same fanatical theocracies that have no qualms about resorting to outright brutality to protect and further their social, political and religious agendas—a fact that the world is witnessing only too clearly with recent events in Iran—would feel threatened by culture, the arts and, most recently, by Western cinema, as evidenced by the recent bombings of movie theaters in Pakistan orchestrated by the Taliban.

From the earliest of times, Islamic culture has been characterized by a particularly intense hostility towards imagery or rendering. Some of this fanaticism may be justified by Islamic apologists as an attempt to assert the peculiar brand of monotheism that Muslims adhere to. And, of course, there is no denying the cultural achievements of the past, in such Islamic cultural centers as Beirut, Lebanon and Baghdad, Iraq. However, it cannot be denied that the radical Islamic movement of recent times, as epitomized by the likes of the Taliban and Al Quaeda, have displayed a pretty ruthless hostility towards all forms of artistic representation. And this destructiveness has been felt only too keenly in such Islamic cultural centers as Beirut and Baghdad, which are now wastelands thanks to decades of sectarian violence and brutality.

In March 2001, in fact, the Taliban ordered the destruction of two gigantic, ancient statues of the Buddha in the Bamiyan province of Afghanistan—an act of ruthless vandalism against art and culture—against historical artifacts of immense archaeological importance and cultural value—an act that many believe was an ominous precursor to the destruction, only six months following, of another pair of monoliths of immense socio-cultural importance, namely the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in the great Western cultural center of New York City. Arguably, the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 is an undeniable expression of a deep-seated hostility for Western art, culture and, in this case, architecture, on the part of radical Islamic factions.

After all, if Islamic radicals like the Taliban, Al Quaeda and the Ahmadinejad regime in Iran have no problem with murdering thousands of innocent civilians (by sponsoring terrorism) or engaging in brutal misogynistic practices or controlling their populations with an iron fist through religious dogma, can it be at all surprising that they would find Western cinema threatening? One has to wonder: how many Hollywood movie stars would feel the least bit comfortable having any dealings with the likes of the Taliban or Al-Quaeda or the Iranian regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? And, furthermore, how agreeable would Hollywood or Las Vegas, with their culture of over-the-top extravagance, be to the average Islamic radical?

I have no doubt that when the likes of Osama bin Laden condemn Western and, in particular, American culture as inimical to the tenets of radical Islam, what they have in mind are such cultural centers as Hollywood and Las Vegas—cities whose culture has always been about extravagance and excess of every kind. For a religion that enforces draconian dietary regulations and forbids the consumption of alcoholic beverages, Hollywood would have to be a profound anathema!

No wonder that the Taliban and other Islamic radicals feel compelled to bomb movie theaters in Peshawar, Pakistan!

Horizon Cybermedia, on the other hand, is about preserving art and culture in the face of brutal religious extremism. We are about championing the cause of freedom, especially in the venue of artistic self-expression. For us, the worst possible of all scenarios would be to be subjected to an Islamic theocracy that denies us our basic freedoms and human rights—freedoms such as those that enable us to produce art, culture and cinema!

Check us out at our website, which features our ongoing film series, Exploration with Uday Gunjikar, a travelogue documenting our sojourns to remarkable venues the world over.

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar,
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.