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Wednesday, December 22, 2004


"The worst possible outcome"

Further to my previous posting last Saturday, the Sikh protestors have got their way. The controversial play 'Behzti' at Birmingham Repertory Theatre has been taken off. And a proposal to stage the play at a different Birmingham theatre has been abandoned after threats to the safety of the (Sikh) playwright - although the Royal Court Theatre in London may yet stage the play.

Here we have a victory for mob rule and censorship. Not only that, but this incident will seriously damage race relations in Britain by confirming many people's stereotypes about ethnic minorities.

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, speaking on the BBC Radio 4
Today programme on Tuesday [0855], called this "the worst possible outcome". He added, "... feelings of hurt and offence cannot be a reason for the silencing of a voice of a young playwright," and warned that, in a world in which people could be shouted down, minorities would be the biggest losers. He also criticised Catholic church leaders who supported the play being taken off.

The performance of the
Catholic church is a particular disgrace. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Birmingham endorsed a boycott of the theatre and the local bishop described the play as "offensive to all faiths". Worse, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, told BBC London, "There's a balance to be kept here between freedom which I think is rightly cherished in this country... but there's also some kind of self-censorship that playwrights too have to realise that some things could be very offensive to people."

The cardinal's sinister call for 'self-censorship' reminded me of a piece of graffiti in Paris in 1968, which read, "The church complains of persecution when it is not allowed to persecute."

In my previous posting, I queried whether the Liberal Democrats would have the courage to criticise the Sikh protest. Fortunately, Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, speaking in his capacity as a member of the National Secular Society, made an excellent case on
Monday's Today programme.

But on an issue of such fundamental importance to Liberals, where was party leader Charles Kennedy? Here was a ready-made opportunity to assert Liberal values and he missed it.

Speaking as a liberal-minded Catholic (which admittedly could still make me a right-wing control freak by secular standards), I'd just like to agree with what you say here. I suspect I would not like this play and might be offended by it, but that's not the point. Many people dislike or are offended by my religion. My Church leaders must be aware of this, so you would think it would lead them to champion freedom of expression, even when it is difficult to do so. It is particularly worrying that this play has been stopped through violence and the threat of violence, that offends me more than anything anyone says or writes.
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