THE West and Islam are on a cultural collision course. That's the best-selling fiction that many people — politicians, religious leaders and the media on both sides of the equation — are working overtime to turn into fact. Actually, it's a very old story, and art is routinely pulled into it.
Always, we hear Islamic art talked about in the way something called the "Islamic world" is talked about, as if it were unitary, unchanging, inscrutable and over there. We hear that Islamic art is, by definition, religious art, and we hear about its hostile relationship to the human image.
We got an earful of this with the furor over Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. The fact is, images of the Prophet abound in Islamic art and culture; the Metropolitan Museum has several examples in its Islamic collection. But unlike the cartoons, such images are not caricatures.