Not Again

Well, here we go again. Another victory for religious sensitivity and obscurantism and shutting people up, another defeat for open discussion of religion and religions. Another victory for clerics, another defeat for playwrights, theatres, actors, and playgoers. Another victory for the principle that if discussion of Subject X is ‘offensive’ to certain easily-offended domineering people, then discussion of Subject X gets stopped, and that’s that. Hooray. (Of course, looked at another way, it’s also a victory of a sort for wider dissemination of Subject X. No doubt a lot more people will be at least reading ‘Behzti’ than otherwise would have, even if fewer will be seeing it. But the terrible precedent is still set.) It’s all so obvious. You know what I’m going to say – there’s not even any point in my saying it. So I’ll just quote from the newspaper and BBC reports instead. From the Independent:

Mohan Singh, from the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in south Birmingham, welcomed the decision. But he said the Rep could have avoided the disturbances more than a week ago. “It’s a sad fact but it’s a very good thing that they have seen common sense on the issue,” he told the Press Association. “But the fact of the matter is that it has taken things to become violent before it happened. What precedent does this set? Will it happen again when people think peaceful protest is not going to work? Those are the answers we need. We were in negotiations with the Rep about a week ago and they didn’t budge. That’s when they should have budged.”

Common sense. Right. Stupid of the Birmingham Rep, wasn’t it. Why won’t people see sense. Surely, whenever people produce a play, write a novel, research an article, make a movie, and some other nice people come along and talk to them and negotiate with them and ask them to stop doing that, surely it’s only common sense for the producers and writers and researchers and movie-makers to negotiate back and say ‘Yes, indeed, we see what you mean, and we will stop at once.’ But no! The horrible willful obstinate people at Birmingham Rep didn’t budge. How very rude and disobliging of them. It’s an outrage – and Britain calls itself a democracy!

Then Mr Singh followed up this excellent argument with more good sense and a threat:

He rejected claims they were stifling free speech, adding: “Free speech can go so far. Maybe 5,000 people would have seen this play over the run. Are you going to upset 600,000 thousands Sikhs in Britain and maybe 20 million outside the UK for that? Religion is a very sensitive issue and you should be extremely careful.”

Well exactly. That’s what I mean – it’s democracy. So perhaps five thousand spoiled ponces might have seen the play – while 20.6 million Sikhs got upset! Can you imagine! So no wonder that note of menace creeps in there at the end. You can hardly blame the guy.

From the Guardian:

Earlier Sewa Singh Mandha, the chairman of the Council of Sikh Gurdwaras in Birmingham, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In a Sikh temple sexual abuse does not take place; kissing and dancing don’t take place; rape doesn’t take place; homosexual activity doesn’t take place; murders do not take place. I am bringing to the attention of the management of the theatre the sensitive nature of the play because by going into the public domain it will cause deep hurt to the Sikh community,” he said. The author Hanif Kureishi, however, defended the Birmingham Rep’s production of the play. He told Today: “I think the Sikh community should be ashamed of the fact that it is destroying theatres. Destroying a theatre is like destroying a temple. Without our culture, we are nothing. Our culture is as crucial to the liberal community as temples are to the religious community.”

‘Deep hurt.’ We’ve heard that kind of thing before. Just a few days ago in fact, when discussing that column by Polly Toynbee.

Iqbal Sacranie of the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain said that linking the Prophet’s name with this crime “will have shocked Muslim readers” who are “calling for safeguards against vilification of dearly cherished beliefs”.

Deep hurt, dearly cherished beliefs. Religious censors are attempting to use emotional and emotive language to make their case. ‘I feel deep hurt, my dearly cherished beliefs are being challenged, therefore you are obliged to shut up.’ That’s how religious censors think. It’s not a good idea to encourage them in this line of thought.

The attack comes as the government attempts to usher through parliament a law against incitement to religious hatred. Although as a monoethnic religious group the Sikh community is already covered by specific race hate legislation, the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris has argued that the proposed law on religious hatred creates a climate in which “any religion’s assertion is that their beliefs, leaders, icons and places of worship are protected from criticism, ridicule or parody”.

Just so. This is one of the problems with the law. Fiona McTaggart tells us that private prosecutions won’t be brought, but what about the encouragement the law gives to this kind of ‘respect my dearly cherished beliefs or else’ line of thinking?

From the BBC account:

A spokesman for the Sikh community in Birmingham, Councillor Chaman Lal, predicted there would have been larger protests had the play’s run continued. He said: “The theatre has made the right decision in response to a peaceful protest. There are no winners or losers – common sense has prevailed.” Cllr Lal did not accept that the theatre had bowed to the threat of violence and mob rule. “We have nothing against freedom of speech, but you do not make a mockery of someone’s faith or beliefs. That is oppression.” Earlier, the theatre said short of “blatant censorship” and cancelling the production, it could not have done more to appease the Sikh community.

Free speech, no problem, but of course that doesn’t mean making a mockery of someone’s faith or beliefs. No. You can talk about anything else you like. Food, sport, some tv shows – um – food…

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