Many if not most people tend to equate denial of freedom with criminalization backed up by the possibility of jail. In reality, however, there are many other ways to restrict a person’s freedom. Generally speaking, if the price of exercising a particular freedom can be made high enough, people will simply ignore or consciously forfeit its gradual loss. This price can be in terms of money, loss of reputation, or fear of being ostracized, brought under suspicion or associated with unpopular groups, individuals, ideologies or agendas. The recent Supreme Court decision, for example, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Committee, granted corporations the right to make campaign contributions. While it directly imposed no restrictions on the freedom of non-corporations, it clearly reduced the ability of individuals to protect and promote their rights and interests relative to those of the super-rich. Yet, the disparity in money and influence between the average person and large corporations is so massive that most people will simply ignore the impact of this decision on the meaningful exercise and eventual erosion of their political rights and freedoms.
The acronym, ALTICALSA, I imagine, would not resonate too loudly with many Muslims in America, and for good reason. In the first place, the artifacts housed in this section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art spring not to mind as telling historical reminders of Islam’s potential beyond bombs and mayhem. And as Mehri Khalil discovered recently, the curators of this and other renowned museums have added to this disjuncture between Islam and aesthetics by rechristening these very sections of their libraries. The Galleries of Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and later South Asia (ALTICALSA) were until September 11, 2001 more elegantly titled the Islamic Galleries. Since then, almost all references to Islam in these galleries have been replaced by nomenclatures that say as much about our changing political landscape as they do about Islam and aesthetics.