Oxygen of Publicity

How come novelists are so violent? Why are they always running around swinging baseball bats and roughing people up? Are they on steroids or what?

Novelists Salman Rushdie, Hari Kunzru and Lisa Appignanesi have attacked community groups, the police and the media after Ruby Films decided to move shooting of an adaptation of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane out of London’s Tower Hamlets area last week.

Wow. That seems like a lot of people for three unathletic novelists to attack. Did they draw blood?

The criticism follows a march organised by the Campaign Against Monica Ali’s Film Brick Lane yesterday which drew no more than two women and 70 older men. Threats of violence and book-burning failed to materialise.

Ohhhhh, I see – Richard Lea means they criticized all those people, but he chooses to call that ‘attacking’ them. Hmm. Odd choice of word. Maybe that’s because it was the Guardian that made the protest of a few guys sound like the outrage of the whole ‘community’? Or maybe not, maybe it was just an odd choice of word with no sinister motivation.

“After the damp squib of the anti-Monica Ali protest in Whitechapel on Sunday”, said Rushdie, “it is clear that, as many of us suspected, there are no strong feelings in and around Brick Lane about the proposed film of Ms Ali’s eponymous novel.” He called for “all those who over-reacted in this matter”, including the police, the film company, Channel Four, the news media and “the censor’s friend” Germaine Greer to “admit their mistakes, so that the film can be completed, and we can move on.” “We cannot allow small numbers of ‘offended’ traditionalists the power of censorship,” agreed Appignanesi. “Mr Salique’s campaign, the media and the police’s willingness to accept him as a representative, are shaming to the proud history of Brick Lane…”

In other words, stop cheering on tiny groups of male ‘protesters’ who want to silence novelists and playwrights especially when they’re women.

Natasha Walter seconds the motion.

But there can be no justification for trying to suppress fiction because it has not measured up against some irrelevant yardstick. What Germaine Greer meant when she said that, because of the novel’s supposed inaccuracies, “the community has the moral right to keep the film-makers out” is a mystery. Some people may have the power to do so, but nobody has the moral right to stamp on the cinematic recreation of this humane tale.

Not even if they’re offended? Hm. What a thought.

The bad thing about this controversy is not only that one side is barking up the wrong tree, but also that the media have followed the barking of certain voices to the exclusion of other voices in this community…Journalists and commentators have to think again about why we choose whom we do to represent a community.

And, I would add, whether calling anything and everything a ‘community’ doesn’t help along the very line of thought that is the problem here: that ‘communities’ are monolithic and united and cemented together by communal solidarity so that whatever noisy chump pipes up with the loudest voice can properly be assumed to be speaking for the whole ‘community’ because otherwise – um – someone with an even louder voice would be piping up?

Pola Uddin, the only Bengali woman in the House of Lords, was indignant when I asked her why we weren’t hearing more women’s voices in this debate: “Our voices aren’t sought! The media are not interested in in us.”

That’s for sure. The media are interested in wheeling out Bunglawala every thirty seconds, not in going looking for some pesky woman to talk to. Why is that?

People on the left should not feel that in order to support marginalised communities in their fight for more social justice we have to align ourselves with their most reactionary elements. That’s why we need not get caught up in the rhetoric of a clash of civilisations to go on supporting core values of tolerance and freedom of expression. These values are supported by people within every community, as well as by people who understandably feel they have no community that can speak for them, and so would rather speak for themselves.

Well said.

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