A spectre is haunting the Lahore Museum- a sculpture resembling “Satan” on the ground of the Lahore Museum has caused controversy among certain visitors- so much so that a petition was filed in the Lahore High Court for removal of the statue. The creator of the sculpture, Irtbaatul Hassan, a student of Punjab University College of Arts and Design (PUCAD), says that his artwork was not a depiction of Satan but was a strong comment on the degradation of humans who stop self-reflecting and become immoral, but according to the petitioners, the statue was against cultural and religious sentiments, and encouraged devil worship.

The petition was accepted by the Lahore High Court. Justice Muhammad Farrukh Irfan observed “To control Satan is the responsibility of us all” and the statue has been removed by the Museum.

It is not easy to be the devil’s advocate in this case, since the statue was truly not easy on the eyes. Yet the reasoning used in the petition is flawed and has a dangerously slippery slope. The argument of “religious and cultural sensitivities” used to remove art or literature can have steep consequences on freedom of expression and censorship, and can play into the hands of religious extremists. Allowing one’s personal interpretation of a statue- in this case, of the devil, as the justification for why it should be forcefully removed by law is the same reasoning that was used in a Bangladesh Court, where a statue of a woman was removed due to Islamist objections. It is the same reasoning used by Islamist parties in Peshawar against any depictions of women in media or film.

The argument that the statue was offensive and thus the Court should intervene stifles artistic expression- art is meant to hold a mirror to society, and society has no qualms about being offensive or ugly. Boticelli’s paintings of Dante’s inferno are terrifying to look at, but it is considered serious art and displayed in the top museums.

This petition is an example of the frivolous litigation that Chief Justice Asif Khosa warned against in his speech at CJP Nisar’s farewell. Removing the statue should be the prerogative of the museum curators - using lawsuits to determine what can be placed in public view or not is a waste of the courts time, especially considering there are thousands of more important cases pending.