Thankfully, this Islam-related news story does not contain graphic descriptions of beheadings. It is merely a travelogue filled with the usual false assumptions of Islamic moral superiority, or failing that, equivalence.
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Several Arab states have recently undertaken what may prove an impossible task: to persuade Americans and Europeans to see them as cultural destinations, rather than as outposts in a conflict zone.
The recent decimation of Gaza can only have made this process more difficult. [Ed.: What the...?!]But nearly a month before the attack began, the new Qatar Museums Authority, under the leadership of Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, inaugurated the Museum of Islamic Art, a notable addition to the global landscape of art institutions.
In its modest way, San Francisco's Asian Art Museum continually pursues similar aims of rendering cultures distant in place, time and belief less foreign. It presents a small survey of "Arts of the Islamic World From Turkey to Indonesia" (through March 1). In part, the show celebrates the latest in the AAM's ongoing publications program, "Persian Ceramics: From the Collections of the Asian Art Museum." Excellent examples of ceramics from ancient Iran and of calligraphy from several parts of the Islamic world serve as tangents to the wonders found in the new Museum of Islamic Art.
[As you gaze in awe at the ceramics and calligraphy, won't that teach you much about the tenets and beliefs of Islam, and how much they have or have not changed over the centuries, and why they haven't? Won't that render it less foreign, more friendly? Won't that cause you to set aside your concerns about Islamic violence after watching the daily news, on any given day in the past decade or two? After all, that is the museum's stated aim.]
[Here follows a luscious description of the new museum in Qatar, dripping with the finest accoutrements that any dish-dashed emirate awash in petrodollars earned from oil taken from the ground by foreign kufirs, using foreign kufir technology, transported by foreign kufirs, refined by foreign kufirs, and consumed by foreign kufirs, would demand in this museum designed and built by embarassingly-eager-to-be-bought foreign kufirs.]
Chinese American architect I.M. Pei designed the 382,000-square-foot complex, which includes two floors of galleries; a grand, domed central atrium; two outdoor courtyards; a conservation lab; and a library and education center. The building and its surround occupies a man-made peninsula stemming from the Doha Corniche that skirts the Arabian Gulf.
For the key material, Pei chose the white limestone that became his aesthetic signature with such major commissions as the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Miho Museum, outside Kyoto, Japan.
The region's bright, flat light creates sharp shadows that play upon the faceted geometry of the five-story central structure's stacked tiers. Pei researched the architecture of the Islamic world extensively before designing a building unmistakably his own. He claims to have taken design inspiration from the 13th century ablution fountain within a renowned ninth century Cairo mosque.
The project manager from Pei's office spoke to me of the difficulty of building under Doha's extreme climatic conditions. To pour the coffered concrete ceilings above the interior balconies without their cracking, the contractors had to work at night and mix the concrete with ice. All the customary standards governing museum climate control had to be enhanced to forfend against the region's extreme heat and invasive, wind-driven desert dust.
Parisian architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte also had to hew to extraordinary standards of insulation and durability in his design of the gallery interiors and casework. He ended up producing some of the most luxurious and aesthetically considered galleries to be found in any museum.
The walls alternate between metalized, stained Brazilian lacewood, which looks like vermiform mahogany, and slate-gray Argentine porphyry, bush-hammered and scored horizontally so that it seems to ripple under light raking from above.
Most of the cases take the form of glass vitrines resting on tables that offer a peripheral ledge on which the viewer can lean. Fiber-optic lighting runs beneath the vitrines to allow tiny fixtures to tilt upward, almost invisible to the spectator, and illuminate objects from the sides and below.
[With such a fabulous museum, who needs artwork? All those men and accompanied-by-familial-men-or-else women will be able to gaze upon calligraphic samples from the Qur'an, and calligraphic samples from the hadiths, and other calligraphic samples, and unobtrusive geometric tile mosaics, in the finest luxury that obscene amounts of money can buy.]
A portion of the exhibition is devoted to dispelling the idea that Islam forbade imagery in the arts. Another, of particular distinction, assembles an impressive survey of astrolabes and other instruments attesting to the Muslim world's pre-eminence in astronomy and mathematics during Europe's Dark Ages.
[All together now: the astrolabe was invented by the Greeks almost a thousand years before the invention of Islam, let alone the invention hundreds of years later of the Islamic version of the astrolabe. And unlike the Greeks who used the astrolabe for astronomical exploration, the Muslims used the astrolabe mainly for finding the qibla, or the direction of Mecca, in order to properly orient oneself for prayer. The preceding bit about Islam not forbidding "imagery" is very intriguing, however.]
Calligraphy and illuminated manuscripts form another especially strong component of the museum's opening survey. Several of the world's most famous examples of ceramics, calligraphy and metalwork from the Islamic world find a place in "Beyond Boundaries," harbingers of the MIA's level of connoisseurship and ambition.
[Book your flight to Qatar quickly, before all flights fill up and you're forced to settle for a trip to Israel, that measely font of Judeo-Christian values and home to one or two historical sites, or something.]