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Fotografen og kunstneren, iranske Sooreh Hera, er blitt tvunget til å gå under jorden i Nederland på grunn av dødstrusler fra islamister etter at et museum stilte ut hennes bilder av homofile menn iført masker som forestilte profeten Muhammed og svigersønnen Ali. Også museumsdirektør Ranti Tjan som stilte ut Heras bilder i museet i Gouda etter at museet i Haag avslo, har mottatt trusler fra muslimske ekstremister og er under politibeskyttelse. Bildene er nå fjernet fra utstillingen.

Speaking on the telephone from an unspecified location in the Netherlands last week, the artist, an Iranian exile who goes by the pseudonym of Sooreh Hera, said she had been threatened with «execution». She accused the director of the municipal museum in The Hague of cowardice for caving in to Muslim extremists.

Her story is a reminder of the tensions that have put the Netherlands and other European countries on the front line, sending dozens of people threatened by extremists into hiding since 2004, when a Dutch film-maker was murdered on the street and his collaborator driven into exile.

This leaves Hera, 34, in no doubt that she is in real danger. «They said to me, ‘We’re going to burn you naked or put a bullet in your mouth’,» she said, referring to menacing e-mails.
«They say, ‘Now you are locked in your home and you cannot go out any more’.»

Direktøren for museet i Haag, Wim van Krimpen, priste i utgangspunktet Heras bilder som eksepsjonelle. Kort etter annonserte han imidlertid at bildene av de maskerte homofile ikke kunne inkluderes i utstillingen i Haag fordi «enkelte mennesker i vårt samfunn kunne oppfatte dem som krenkende».

«The museum director was very afraid,» said Hera. «He gave in to pressure from the Islamists. It is censorship.» In protest, she withdrew the rest of her photographs from the exhibition and Ranti Tjan, director of a museum in Gouda, agreed to put them on show. He received threats from extremists and was under police protection last week. Hera declined to discuss her own security arrangements.

Heras fotografier av eksil-iranske menn iført masker som forestiller Muhammed og Ali, profetens svigersønn, er et forsøk på å stille ut den hyklerske holdningen til homofili i land som Iran, der menn kan bli – og blir – hengt for homofili.

«They condemn homosexuality but in countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia it is common for married men to maintain relations with other men,» said Hera.

«Works of art can be provocative. It is not an artist’s job just to paint flowers. Art should shine a light on social issues.»

The photographs were part of an extensive collection of images by Hera of mostly Dutch gay men. Another part of her exhibit was a video featuring hard rock music and images of Iranian clerics interspersed with pictures of naked men.

Situasjonen i Nederland setter igjen søkelyset på den dype kløften som eksisterer mellom europeere over hvordan den islamske ekstremismen skal takles.

She may not get much support from the politicians, who seem determined to avoid confrontation even if some might accuse them of turning a blind eye to the erosion of artistic freedom. When Hera wrote to Ronald Plasterk, the culture minister, asking for his support he agreed to meet her but would not help to reinstate her photographs in the exhibition.

Wouter Bos, the deputy prime minister, seemed to take a stand for freedom of speech, saying: «In a democracy, we do not recognise the right not to be insulted.»

I skarp kontrast applauderte den venstreorienterte avisen de Volkskrant museet for dets «store profesjonalitet» da museet fjernet de aktuelle bildene fra utstillingen.

For her part, Hera, who fled Iran seven years ago, says she has «no regrets», particularly when she thinks about the young men and women being hanged there for offending the country’s code of sexuality. «I do it for them,» she said, «for the boys and girls with no freedom in Iran.»

Times Online: Woman artist gets death threats over gay Muslim photos