'Islam in Europe' exhibition opens in Brussels after delay caused by terror attacks

'Islam in Europe' exhibition opens in Brussels after delay caused by terror attacks
A controversial exhibition revealing the influence of Islam in Europe over the course of history has opened in Brussels after a delay caused by the Islamist terror attacks that took 32 lives in the Belgian capital last year.

The exhibition, entitled “Islam. It’s Also Our History” by the Museum of Europe has been previously displayed in several European countries.

But its arrival in Brussels last week had been postponed by the authorities and organizers after the Paris attacks in November 2015 and the bombings in the Belgian capital in March 2016. The organizers also struggled to find a venue for the show as many were hesitant to host an event that was almost certain to attract controversy.

The exhibition finally opened on September 15 at the Vanderborght Building, which is owned by the Brussels city authorities.

“We want to make clear to Europeans that Islam is part of European civilization and that it isn’t a recent import but has roots going back 13 centuries,” Isabelle Benoit, a historian from the Tempora organization, which designed the show, told AP.

The display uses historic and contemporary artwork, daily objects, multimedia and installations to reveal how Islam influenced Europe during the Arab rule of the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal), the Ottoman Empire and the Colonial Period.

But the show also addresses the current situation in Europe, which is gripped by waves of migrants from war-torn Middle Eastern and North African nations as well as the constant threat of Islamist terrorism.

“It turns out that our exhibition comes at a very relevant time in history when the meeting between Europe and Islam is witnessed by citizens from the continent in all its tragic manifestations… Should we cancel it or at least postpone it until happier circumstances? Definitely not, we believe,” the organizers said on the exhibition’s website.

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“It is precisely because the timing is tragic that it is important to show our contemporaries the extraordinary richness of this history, which has helped to make us what we are. We should not hide what is wrong any more than relativize it, but place it a centuries-old history, which has much more to it than just this,” they added.

Provocative artworks dedicated to modern relations between Islam and Europe have attracted the most attention at the show.

An installation by Danish artist Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen commemorated thousands of migrants who drowned in attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea and reach Europe on rafts and rickety boats.

The guests of the display enter a dark room, decorated by screens, which show the bottom of the sea, with rolls of fabric thrown to the floor resembling the bodies of drowned children.

Jean Ulrick Desert from Haiti created burqas, garments used by some Muslim woman to fully cover their face and body in public, in the colors the national flags of the US, UK, France and Germany to show the scale of the immigration.

Meanwhile, an installation by a US artist, Gregory Green, showing a posh Louis Vuitton case with a fake improvised explosive device inside it led to complaints by visiting Muslims

Primary school teacher Nejia Adouiri said it was “very confrontational” that the organizers “wanted to make a link between Islam and what has been happening recently worldwide.”

Adouiri also objected to the bomb-laden Louis Vuitton case being placed at the end the exhibition and therefore helping to form a negative final impression of Islam for visitors.

The organizers told AP that Green’s piece won’t be removed due to the complaints, but added that it may be moved to another location and put in its textual content.  

“Islam. It’s Also Our History” exhibition is expected to run in the Belgian capital until January 21, 2018.

Three coordinated suicide bombings took place in Brussels on March 22, 2016, with explosions rocking the city’s Zaventem airport and Maalbeek metro station.

The attacks, which killed 32 and injured over 300 people, were claimed by the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group.