Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Et tu, UK?

I haven't seen word one about this in the US press, but there's quite a hubbub in the British press around the production of the play Behzti at the Birmingham Rep. The play, by Sikh author Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, deals with rape and murder in a Sikh temple and the local Sikh community is none too happy about it. The Independent reports:

On Saturday night more than 400 Sikh demonstrators clashed with police outside the building, forcing the cancellation of that night's performance. Some protesters tried to storm the theatre, attacking security guards, destroying a foyer door and breaking windows in a restaurant. More than 800 people were evacuated. Many of those inside were families with young children attending the theatre's Christmas play, The Witches, which was also stopped before the curtain rose. Two people arrested have been released on police bail; five police officers were also slightly injured.

The playwright, who has received death threats, made several changes to her script in response to requests from the Sikh community, but refused to change the temple scene. In a near-textbook example of blaming the victim, the leader of the campaign against the play said of the protests: "Of course I condemn violence wherever it occurs and we are a peaceful and law abiding community. But you should also consider who is provoking this violence - who is creating this anger but the author herself.'' Not to be outdone, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham is supporting the protesters:
The Most Rev Vincent Nichols said the Sikh community had acted in a "reasonable and measured way'' in representing their concerns over the play. He added: "Such a deliberate, even if fictional, violation of the sacred place of the Sikh religion demeans the sacred places of every religion. People of all faiths, therefore, will be offended by this presentation."

Sadly, the violence has had its desired effect; the Birmingham Rep has shut down the critically praised and sold-out show. Per The Guardian:
Speaking at a press conference at the city centre theatre, Mr Rogers [the executive director of the theatre] said: "It is now clear that we cannot guarantee the safety of our audiences. Very reluctantly, therefore, we have decided to end the current run of the play, purely on safety grounds. "It remains a matter of great concern to us that illegal acts of violence can cause the cancellation of a lawful artistic work," he added.

Additional coverage can be found at the BBC, Reuters, and the Times. (Thanks to Bookslut for the links)