Skip

Sikh play dropped
December 21, 2004 3:49 AM   Subscribe

Behzti (Dishonour) a play by sikh author Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti has been dropped because of violent protests from members of the birmingham sikh community.

Catholic archbishop feels that violation of the sacred place of the Sikh religion demeans the sacred places of every religion.

As an aside at least enoch was wrong.

Once again folks - in the right corner it's religion , erm.. running round in circles like a scared fool its freedom of expression.
posted by dprs75 (47 comments total)

 
Sorry - link to play
posted by dprs75 at 3:54 AM on December 21, 2004


Why invoke Enoch Powell?
posted by gsb at 3:59 AM on December 21, 2004


He made his speech in Birmingham (and I don't agree with a single word of it).
posted by dprs75 at 4:02 AM on December 21, 2004


And...?

Apart from geography, I don't see a direct link to this play and the controversy, unless you're trying to ignite a debate about immigration issues.

From what I've seen, many of the protesters are British born. And Powell could have easily made his speech in any area to reach his constituency.
posted by gsb at 4:07 AM on December 21, 2004


Points to be made. Firstly, the violence erupted after 5 days of peaceful demonstration. The Sikh community are blaming young Sikh men, who, after a night of drinking decided that they wanted a bit of aggro. In no way does the Sikh community condone the violence.

Secondly, I'm not suprised that the catholic church is weighing in on this one. If things like this manage to sway the government to banning plays like Behtzi, then they're half way back to a situation where catholic priests can molest young boys with impunity.

I'm coming to the opinion that as a country, we've been a bit too quick to ban “hate speech”. This is a valid play, it's arguably not been written to incite hatred, and yet the argument that “if hate speech should be banned, then this also should be banned” has merit. These are worrying times indeed for British freedom of speech.

Also, the last link is broken and should be This
posted by seanyboy at 4:09 AM on December 21, 2004


I was very heartened to see pretty much every single avenue of media condemn the violent protests and defend freedom of expression. Not surprising since they're the media and their freedom is at stake as well, but I'm not used to seeing them all agree on an issue. Channel 4 in particular opened their evening news with a long, highly critical feature on the withdrawal of the play.
posted by adrianhon at 4:18 AM on December 21, 2004


I honestly thought it was interesting that Enoch made his speech in Brimingham.
As a result of high numbers of immigrants to certain areas of Britain these communities have clout. This is not a bad thing except when they have to pander to their louder constituents.

I am much more interested in the similarities between American religious fundamentalist and the lack of them in Europe (or the lack of any clout). I need sleep - can someone else do this for me. My brain hurts.

My disjointed thoughts are - American Religious people have a say - Europeans Religious people normally don't have a say politically. Is this some move by 'the church' to try and change this ?
posted by dprs75 at 4:21 AM on December 21, 2004


This really bothers me. Yesterday the theatre was claiming it wouldn't give in to intimidation and then it caved just like that? Free speech in the UK is starting to come uner serious threat and it's not from the government its from the street.

Mob rule. That'll be lovely.
posted by fshgrl at 4:36 AM on December 21, 2004


then it caved just like that?
When 20 year old yobs are smashing up your theatre in front of the young children who have come to see a (different) pantomime you are showing, then you're going to be thinking very seriously about whether you should be showing a play. I think that the Brummy Rep made a mistake, but I don't blame them for there decision.

Take this to a smaller theatre, and show it at a time when the vulnerable are not at risk. Then we can start talking about Mob Rule vs Freedom of speech.
posted by seanyboy at 4:54 AM on December 21, 2004


Secondly, I'm not suprised that the catholic church is weighing in on this one. If things like this manage to sway the government to banning plays like Behtzi, then they're half way back to a situation where catholic priests can molest young boys with impunity.

c'mon seanyboy, it's not the same thing. the catholic church was recently put off by madame tussauds' nativity scene using posh and becks as mary and jesus. even worse, they used a wax figure (and intellectual equivalent) of george bush as one of the three wise men.

freedom of speech may give one the right to exhibit poor taste, but people should also have the right to - peacefully - complain about it.

i completely agree with fhsgrl that simply giving into intimidation is wrong, but what's wrong with giving in to good taste and showing a little respect? hiding behind freedom of expression when the purpose may simply be to denegrate a religion hardly seems like a noble principle or an advancement of the social dialogue. i'm not saying this sort of expression should be banned, but shamed, ostracized, and ridiculed seems wholly appropriate.
posted by three blind mice at 4:56 AM on December 21, 2004


Looks like the Old Rep might take the play up (also in Birmingham, about half a mile away from the new Rep)
posted by BigCalm at 5:04 AM on December 21, 2004


Here FoxNewsLand, we worry about free speech being impugned on by the Evil Forces of capitalism. Were this to play out in the US, I can imagine the theater management standing strong, but the corporate sponsors of the GloboCorp Presents company withdrawing their support because they do not condone the message. (and oh lordy, what Sean and Ann and Tucker would say if it were set in a christian church).

No mention of sponsors in these pieces.

On preview: what Seanyboy said.
posted by allan at 5:08 AM on December 21, 2004


but what's wrong with giving in to good taste and showing a little respect?

Because 'good taste' and 'respect' are blanket and highly subjective categories that are used by (religious and otherwise) tyrants around the world to banish free speech. I don't have to respect Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Sikhs or Muslims and I can criticize and ridicule their religion when it damn well pleases me. That is the essence of "freedom of speech".

hiding behind freedom of expression when the purpose may simply be to denegrate a religion hardly seems like a noble principle or an advancement of the social dialogue.

That's where you're wrong. What if a religion is directly responsible for atrocities (forced weddings, spousal abuse, genital mutilation)? Is it not an advancement to ridicule or 'degenerate' such practices? And the religion that prescribes them? I think so.

Why would it be a bad thing to degenerate religion to the point where every bearded, turbaned or pointy-hatted fool in antiquated long robes shuts up about social/moral issues in the public area and we reach the point where everybody can practise his/her religion in peace, at home while leaving everybody else the f*** alone with his/her views on how the cosmos came to be and more importantly, how to lead one's life?
posted by NekulturnY at 5:08 AM on December 21, 2004


c'mon seanyboy, it's not the same thing.
No, it's not exactly the same thing, but I think that a desire for legislation in this area is potentially very dangerous. If you can't criticise the church (whichever church), then the potential for abuse of power by that church increases.

I agree mostly with your comment. There's nothing wrong with showing respect for sacred things and giving in to good taste. However, people are asking for this play to be banned, and that is a bad thing.
posted by seanyboy at 5:15 AM on December 21, 2004


From the BBC story:
Mohan Singh, from the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in south Birmingham, said: "It's a sad fact, but it's a very good thing that (The Rep) has seen common sense on the issue.

"But the fact of the matter is that it has taken things to become violent before it happened."


I'm not reading any real condemnation of the violence in this, to be honest, more something like: too bad they had to let it come to this before "seeing common sense".
posted by NekulturnY at 5:23 AM on December 21, 2004


I believe that the main area of contention in this play is a rape which happens in the most sacred part of the Sikh Temple. I've a feeling (although I'm not 100% sure about this) that the rape scene didn't have to happen in this place, and if it had happened somewhere else, the integrity of the play would have been kept.

This isn't equivalant to plays which ridicule practices (e.g. genital mutilation) which we find abhorrant, it's equivalant to "wiping your arse on the bible for the laugh of it." It shouldn't be banned, but I don't condone it.

Of course, I may be wrong about the nature of the percieved infraction, and the fact that I'm unlikely to be able to go and see this play so I can judge for myself is the most terrible thing.
posted by seanyboy at 5:23 AM on December 21, 2004


I try not to be too jaded about religion - I try to remind myself that it was initially created to preserve moments of insight and illumination. But baby has long since died and it's all about preserving that precious bathwater - and sometimes using it to make kool-aid.

Sometimes I think that it's important to preserve what little tradition of intellectual freedom and liberalism we have in the west. And then I ask myself if that tradition isn't just another crock of bathwater. Maybe I'll still be asking that when the religious folks come drag me into the town square for a good old fashioned stoning.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:25 AM on December 21, 2004


You're right. The Sikh reaction to the violence has been suprising. I too am waiting for a public condemnation from Sikh Elders on this matter, and I believe it's very important that this happens.
posted by seanyboy at 5:32 AM on December 21, 2004


I don't have to respect Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Sikhs or Muslims and I can criticize and ridicule their religion when it damn well pleases me. That is the essence of "freedom of speech".

NekulturnY of course you can, the question is whether or not you should.

What if a religion is directly responsible for atrocities (forced weddings, spousal abuse, genital mutilation)? Is it not an advancement to ridicule or 'degenerate' such practices? And the religion that prescribes them? I think so.

well i guess this is a thinly obscured reference to islam and certainly there are some practices of islam that a liberal society should speak out against, but insulting muslims just for the sake of insulting muslims (or sikhs) unconnected to any specific practice (such as with the accused play) seems to me (subjectively) as simply bad taste.

and why is it always religions are directly responsble for atrocities? are they not also then directly responsible for acts of kindness and generosity? or are these evils that should also be banned from society?

as a non-religious person, i feel far less threatened by some expressions of religion than i do by the expressions of some anti-religious zealots who seem all too ready and willing to censor all religious speech from public life.
posted by three blind mice at 5:35 AM on December 21, 2004


well i guess this is a thinly obscured reference to islam and certainly there are some practices of islam that a liberal society should speak out against

Actually, it isn't: these practices are not at all restricted to islam. The position of women in traditional Jewish (rent those movies), in fundamentalist Christian societies and no doubt in assorted other religions/caste systems is just as precarious.

As I said, I have nothing against religion, but religious people/leaders seem to have this tendency to tell others how to behave: you can't have an abortion, you can't have premarital sex, you can't divorce, you can't have a homosexual relationship. The moment they can lobby this into laws, it becomes a problem for me too. So while I'm not telling them what to do (other than obey the laws that everybody is supposed to respect), they seem to find it normal to tell me what to do or don't.

By the way, the sort of warped thinking of religious people seems to be that they don't even have to obey the laws of the country they reside in, because they are a part of a community that transcends those laws. Only yesterday I saw an imam on television saying "that he was supposed to obey the country's laws - at least for as long as they didn't hamper his personal beliefs". I'm sorry, but it's the other way around: laws trump personal beliefs.

I'm sure a lot of religious leaders think the same way as that imam, although nobody seems to care much. Because for some reason, religion holds a special place in society that I don't quite understand. The same sort of play about rape in the dressing room of Man U wouldn't elicit the same response, would it? And why is that? What is religion more than a hobby run amock? Why would I, as an atheist, have to respect religious people more than football fans? I don't understand.

Also, I don't think the homosexual lobby would violently demonstrate before mosques, orthodox churches or synagogues where their chosen/biologically imprinted lifestyle is ridiculed and demonized. Does that mean that popes, rabbis and imams have more rights than they are willing to allow others?
posted by NekulturnY at 6:21 AM on December 21, 2004


The theatre was in discussion with "community leaders" for some months before the play. The theatre refused to change the Sikh playwright's setting of the play in a temple: I haven't seen the play, and thanks to violent thugs I can't, but I understand the setting to be important. Anyway, the theatre agreed to read out a critical message from the "community leaders" before each and every performance, and allow leaflets to be handed out.

The playwright is now in hiding after death threats. "Community leaders" have failed to condemn the violence, stating that it was quite understandable that thugs attacked the theatre because no-one was listening to them, poor things, and it's the theatre's fault for not censoring the play earlier:

It's a sad fact, but it's a very good thing that they have seen common sense on the issue. But the fact of the matter is that it has taken things to become violent before it happened. (From BBC News).

The Independent newspaper has published the most offensive scene on its front page and website. [Contains profanities, unpleasant subject matter]. I hope you all take time to read it.

I would argue that this isn't the action of "Sikhs". It's the action of some particular young Sikhs, egged on by older, powerful Sikhs who think their particular power and authority should not be challenged, especially not by an young female Sikh playwright. These people are thugs, nothing more, and caving in to them is very very sad. I hope that the theatre is able to make space in its schedule for a re-run of the play when the seasonal children's shows are over and the area can be secured.
posted by alasdair at 6:25 AM on December 21, 2004


What shocked me ism when a sikh spokeswoman said, "Common sense has prevailed.". A theatre cancels a play because a mob smashes the place up? What kind of common sense is that?

The sooner all flavours of god-botherers keep their rituals and beliefs inside their own churches/ temples/ mosques where they can do what they like, and no unbelievers will go and pollute their piousn purity, the better.
posted by Pericles at 6:44 AM on December 21, 2004


NekulturnY: What is religion more than a hobby run amock? Why would I, as an atheist, have to respect religious people more than football fans? I don't understand.

obviously you don't understand.

it was wrong to use violence and threats of violence to shut down this play - and i hope the sikh community comes out unequivocally against this - but i don't see anything wrong with the sikh community peacefully protesting it and condeming the plawright as an untalented, insensitive lout and her play as offensive.

critics do the same to plays that run in the west end every week and no one is screaming censorship - although the result is very much the same.
posted by three blind mice at 7:01 AM on December 21, 2004


I bet the archbishop might feel a little different if a bunch of rowdy Jews smashed some windows during a Christ play at one of his churches.
posted by Possum at 7:09 AM on December 21, 2004


but i don't see anything wrong with the sikh community peacefully protesting it and condeming the plawright as an untalented, insensitive lout and her play as offensive.

Well, nobody would. But that's not what happened, is it? When it was clear that peaceful protest wouldn't get the desired result, the formerly peacefully protesting sikh community resorted to violence.

I bet the archbishop might feel a little different if a bunch of rowdy Jews smashed some windows during a Christ play at one of his churches.

Indeed. Those Passion plays aren't exactly about peace, love and understanding between the religions, you know.
posted by NekulturnY at 7:21 AM on December 21, 2004


NekulturnY of course you can, the question is whether or not you should.

Right. You should be satisfied to theoretically have freedom of speech; shame on you if you actually try to exercise it.
posted by languagehat at 7:29 AM on December 21, 2004


Freedom of speech. How many people, of all religions, would give primacy to "the state" over their religion, or, in any way, their god or gods? Freedom of speech is a man-made rule, and one not in keeping with "the dictates of heaven", in almost *every* religion. If God tells you to hop on one leg while whistling 'Dixie' until you die, you do it, according to many of the faithful. No matter what your fellow men think.

In fact, "the rights of man" only exist in a society that embraces secular realism, and then, only so far as it can force religions to ignore "the dictates of heaven".

So what is the reasonable province of religion? How much authority can a priest have over his assembly, or even over his own house of worship? And here's a point: If a religion "copyrights" its temples, ceremonies, and rituals, can it sue someone who "defames" them?

Perhaps there is a need for a legal protection of a church to prevent someone from defiling their altar. A recognition that "free speech" to one person may be "hate speech" to another. That a belief in the sanctity of one's religion is just as tangible as having one's good name or business impugned.
posted by kablam at 7:41 AM on December 21, 2004


It is too bad that the play was dropped, although I think sometimes if artists made overtures to members of the particular community beforehand, then the issues would have different consequences.

The problem is not merely about religion, it is about humiliation in the public square. Religion is just the veil. Drunk men are drunk men, be it in the religions of Sikhism or football. Both get dangerous.

An alternative reading of the church's response could be that it is carrying out its advocacy for immigrants.

As reverence for sacred spaces disappears, what prevents all the objects of reverence from being determined by the market?
posted by john wilkins at 7:49 AM on December 21, 2004


answering dprs75: I don't think this is a "move" by the church to have some clout. One only has to look at Sikh reaction to the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the subsequent events to understand some of this stuff.

I still don't get the Enoch reference, he gave a speech in Birmingham, so what? There was a lot of settlement there from many different ethnic groups.
posted by gsb at 7:51 AM on December 21, 2004


alasdair: Thanks for linking to the excerpt. Sounds like very powerful stuff.

The story rumbles on in the local press here. If it does reopen then I'm sure ticket sales will be brisk.
posted by MrMustard at 8:09 AM on December 21, 2004


Sorry but you cannot make people to respect you or your religion simply because. You can make them pay lip service to it or you can gain their respect by displaying all the positive aspects of your chosen religion but you EARN respect. I have little respect for any of the religious figures in this little farce.

Tolerance you can demand but that cuts both ways, folks. Free speech means anyone can say anything and you can say anything you want back. It doens't mean you can smash up their property and threaten to kill them.

Aside: drunk Sikh men? Where is the outcry against their disrespect and disobedience to the tenets of Islam, eh? Hypocrites.
posted by fshgrl at 8:14 AM on December 21, 2004


Religions don't have any claim to respect or of sanctity from the populace at large. Any attempt at enforcing that is only going to provide fuel to the fire to discredit that religion. There are quite a number of gender issues that exist within the Sikh community that will now get much more media attention than ever before, as well they should!

fshgrl - that's very funny!
posted by rks404 at 8:20 AM on December 21, 2004


I think sometimes if artists made overtures to members of the particular community beforehand, then the issues would have different consequences.

Again, I must emphasise that the playwright is herself a Sikh, and therefore a member of the Sikh community. She has now received death threats.

Not, of course, that her religon makes any difference. Her right to free speech has been taken away by violence. If she were a fundamentalist Islamic cleric or a middle-class MetaFilter-reading NYC liberal the wrong would be the same.
posted by alasdair at 8:31 AM on December 21, 2004


Aside: drunk Sikh men? Where is the outcry against their disrespect and disobedience to the tenets of Islam, eh? Hypocrites.

Sikhs are not Muslims.
posted by crunchburger at 8:38 AM on December 21, 2004


MrMustard: If it does reopen then I'm sure ticket sales will be brisk.

It had sold out before it was closed. My wife is from Birmingham and was a patron of the Birmingham Rep. She points out that Behzti was being performed in their tiny studio theatre, and if not for the thugs this would probably have been seen by fewer than a thousand people. I very much hope that the recent events will mean it has both a longer life and a wider readership, if only to be contrary.
posted by alasdair at 8:41 AM on December 21, 2004


crunchburger - I think the joke was that since we should respect all religions, then the protesting Sikhs, by being drunk, were offending Islam. It's also funny because there is a history of animus between Sikhs and Muslims. Respecting everyone's religion is a pain in the ass!
posted by rks404 at 8:51 AM on December 21, 2004


I see. Never mind, then.
posted by crunchburger at 8:58 AM on December 21, 2004


alasdair - Interesting. Again. If it does go to the Old Rep and additional tickets are made available then I will consider going. Something I would not have done if it wasn't for the controversy. This type of protest and attempt to ban always seems to result in bringing the object of the protest to a much wider audience. Which is nice.
posted by MrMustard at 9:00 AM on December 21, 2004


seanyboy: I believe that the main area of contention in this play is a rape which happens in the most sacred part of the Sikh Temple. I've a feeling (although I'm not 100% sure about this) that the rape scene didn't have to happen in this place, and if it had happened somewhere else, the integrity of the play would have been kept.

This is inaccurate. The rape takes place in an office in the Gurudwara building. And to be honest, I'm sick to death of people who can't get by in life without an imaginary friend in the sky getting to dictate what the population gets to experience. Fuck them all.
posted by jackiemcghee at 9:12 AM on December 21, 2004


Guess what? It's a theatre. That's not a sacred space, it's a place for make believe. The events are fictional. Written by a female minority member, this is what community arts is supposed to be all about.

I no more, nor less respect the Sikh religion now than before: I have less respect for those that committed violence, that have rejected traditional values (of free speech), and will consider making the 120 mile round trip to see this if another Brum theatre stages it.

The precedent set here will likely come back and bite us on the arse - bang goes my comedy-drama version of the Book of Leviticus...
posted by dash_slot- at 10:58 AM on December 21, 2004


Perhaps there is a need for a legal protection of a church to prevent someone from defiling their altar. A recognition that "free speech" to one person may be "hate speech" to another. That a belief in the sanctity of one's religion is just as tangible as having one's good name or business impugned.

This is a bad, bad idea. Slandering someone in an attempt to ruin their reputation is not the same as insulting them or their beliefs. Which is, and should be, perfectly legal. If I think my neighbor, or the mayor of Seattle, or every Lutheran in Minnesota is a mouth-breathing imbecile, with ridiculous beliefs and bad hair, that's an insult. I only step over the line into slander if I accuse them of some specific wrongdoing of which I have no basis for belief (false charges of child molestation, for example).

Religious people wouldn't want this sort of legal protection either, if they'd think about the issue for more than two minutes at a time. Claiming that everyone who doesn't believe in Allah/Jehovah/Offler is wallowing in the depths of sin and ignorance, and going to straight to hell when they die, can sound an awful lot like hate speech from outside the Chosen Few. Not every sect likes to play up the vengeful-god, fire-and-brimstone aspect of their beliefs, but every religion has at least a little of it: If the big guy in the sky would let you get away with any old thing, why not just pick the religion that lets you have the most fun?
posted by crake at 11:16 AM on December 21, 2004


As reverence for sacred spaces disappears, what prevents all the objects of reverence from being determined by the market?

<snicker> I hereby declare Highbury football stadium "sacred space", and Arsenal my religion. Don't you dare offend me!<snicker/>

This sort of mystical mumbo-jumbo has been a standby of reactionaries over the last two centuries, and I'm surprised that it still has life left in it, despite its long record of failure. What may be "sacred" to you needn't be anything of the sort for me, and vice versa.
posted by Goedel at 12:55 PM on December 21, 2004


Goedel, I definitely wouldn't offend the sanctity of football and its glorious representative, Arsenal. However, I do think that the market and football look a lot like religion, given the passion and certainty of their supporters. Sports and Capitalism are far more powerful than the church in the US [for example, the president refused to listen to the anti-war rhetoric of the entire body of mainline protestantism] than most religious institutions.

And I'm not a reactionary myself, but I think the inviolate spaces, secular or religious, people hold are important to recognize. To recognize them takes some attention - and not merely to religion, but to other human beings.
posted by john wilkins at 1:45 PM on December 21, 2004


WTF??? Arsenal, and earlier on in the thread a mention of Man U. What are you people? Heathens?
There is only one true way. And although we have fallen, we will rise again.
posted by seanyboy at 2:18 PM on December 21, 2004


My heart goes out to seanyboy. If I can say this without offending anyone, what a terrible cross to bear. Never mind, at least you've drawn a big Premiership side in the third round of the FA Cup.
posted by MrMustard at 2:57 PM on December 21, 2004


crake: Slandering someone in an attempt to ruin their reputation is not the same as insulting them or their beliefs. Which is, and should be, perfectly legal.

That is *your* priority. For many religious people *their* priorities are, in order, God(s) or heaven, religious doctrine, their physical church and community, their family, themselves, and then the state. In other words, redress for offending their reputation is rather unimportant to them, compared to either precluding you, or your being punished for, offending their faith.

Their personal "investment" in their religion is much, much greater than that of a secular person. And their response to perceived assaults against their faith is just as spontaneous and uncontrollable as the fists of some people when you have insulted their mother. Free speech doesn't even enter into it for them. You have insulted their mother.
posted by kablam at 5:47 PM on December 21, 2004


just as spontaneous and uncontrollable as the fists of some people when you have insulted their mother

I wouldn't punch people for insulting my mother. Your excuse for religious violence is that they are touchy and have poor self-contrtol?
posted by fshgrl at 3:19 AM on December 22, 2004


« Older   |   Christians make AIDS fight a high priority Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post