We only have to look at a few examples in our past to realize how the free expression of very offensive ideas became defining moments of human civilization.
Ideas that were so offensive at the time they were expressed but because the tellers of these ideas braved the lynch mob majority to freely express them, these once offensive ideas went on to change the course of human civilization.
Imagine ourselves living in the time of Jesus. Ingrained in us from birth and in our daily lives are the teachings, rituals, and beliefs of the Pharisees. Then we hear this man proclaiming himself to be God. Not only offensive but extremely blasphemous at that time. Chances are, we would be part of the majority egging Pontius Pilate to “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Transport ourselves to the time of Galileo. All our lives we have held sacred the belief that God holds the earth special by making it the center of the universe. Then comes this nut-of-a-guy named Galileo proclaiming that the Pope is cuckoo because the earth is just a tiny ball revolving around the giant sun. Chances are, we would be part of the lynch mob majority cheering the Pope as he condemns Galileo to a life of physical and eternal damnation.
Envision ourselves living in British India during the time of Mahatma Gandhi. Faced with horrendous human rights abuses by the British, we would have held the belief that an armed revolution is the sole solution. Then comes this emaciated guy Mahatma declaring instead, that we join the line of the unarmed and offer our heads to be beaten and cracked by the British. We would have been part of the majority sneering at insane Mahatma.
These three giants in human history expressed ideas that were a hundred times more offensive — during their time — compared to the penis-condom-religious images collage artwork of Mideo Cruz. Mideo’s work appears puny in comparison, offensive-wise.
Let us learn from our past, the future ideas that will further change the course of our civilizations will be a hundred times more offensive than the artworks of Mideo Cruz.
If we adopt a policy of curtailing the free expression of offensive ideas, then we will potentially miss out on civilization-changing ideas that appear offensive when viewed in the myopic context of present times.
By opening the gates to offensive ideas, of course the marketplace of ideas will potentially be flooded with ideas that are purely intended to offend. And the majority have the right and the reason to see Mideo’s artwork as belonging to this category. But to destroy these offensive ideas, we merely have to engage their purveyors in debate and expose the silliness and foolishness of their offensive ideas. History teaches us that all purely offensive ideas die a natural death merely through the antidote of debate.
So let us engage Mideo, debate with him on his artwork, and let us his detractors do our best to argue that his offensive ideas rightly belong to the dustbin of history like many other purely offensive ideas of the past. But let us not muzzle the right of all human beings to freely come to the marketplace of ideas and offer his unique view on the issue of what the world has become and what the world should be.
The spectre of violence is also raised as an argument against giving Mideo’s offensive artwork its own place under the sun. Let us not forget that offensive ideas are expressed as a challenge to engage in a debate of ideas, an invitation to engage in a battle of ideas. We are not being challenged to engage in a battle of violence. If we respond to the battle of ideas challenge by instead initiating a battle of violence, then we identify ourselves as living relics of the mobs that crucified Christ, taunted Galileo, and pilloried Gandhi.
Our rightful contribution to the advancement of our civilization should be in preventing the muzzling of the mouths of the purveyors of offensive ideas and in helping redirect the energies and attention of their detractors to the arena where the battle of ideas should take place.
The argument of “let Mideo blaspheme our Muslim brothers and he’ll see what will happen to him” is also raised. While it may be true that most of our brothers in Islamic countries are trailing behind in the advancement of freedom of expression, we can see from recent and unfolding events in the Arab world, that they are marching in the direction of advancing freedom of expression in their societies. In our own effort to transform our society, should we step back and march in cadence with our Muslim brothers or should we not trail-blaze for them on the issue of freedom of expression?
Now, on the artwork of Mideo consisting of a hodge-podge collage of pictures of past and present celebrities, and religious icons laden with a penis and condoms. Let us look inside a typical Filipino house. We see one corner brimming with religious icons. In another corner there is that Baguio barrel man with a penis longer than the entire length of his body. Inside one room are copies of Playboy magazine. We lead our wife and children in prayer before meals and bedtime, and then we make love to our wife by imagining that we are making love to our neighbor’s wife. We go to mass officiated by a priest who maintains a mistress and who drives a Lexus SUV gift-given by that @#$%&?&!!! former President.
In artistically documenting this collage of hypocritical life that many of us live, should a Filipino artist be limited to creating an Amorsolo-like realistic painting of the interiors of a house laden with the religious icons, Baguio barrel penis man, and Playboy magazines located exactly as they are placed inside a specific real house?
There would have been no Monet, Van Gogh, and Picasso if artists were shackled or pandered only to the tastes, beliefs, and ideas of the comfortable majority.
And from our shores there would be no Onib, Dalena, Bencab, Liongoren, Delotavo, Garibay, Borlongan, Justiniani, Ventura, Barredo, Leano, Bolipata, Bitancor, Palomo, Montemayor, Ruiz, Javier, Santos, Barrioquinto, Caasi, Alonday, Aguinaldo, Antonio, Orencio, Tapaya, Cruz, Paras, Jumalon, Solon, Samson, Habulan, Quirante, Coquilla, Jamoralin, Constantino, Alex Tan, and our many more talented artists.
For all these reasons, I will act as counsel to Mideo Cruz and Karen Ocampo Flores when they face the Senate investigation and the Ombudsman criminal proceedings.