Some of the points raised by readers in response to Patrick Connellan's article 'Thought For the Play' (February SR) made me feel distinctly uneasy.
While grudgingly giving a token nod to artistic freedom of speech, all three letters then go on to be equivocal as to whether socialists should oppose the Behzti protests or not. Hassan Ali writes that while the original article's defence of the play was 'formally correct', the violence surrounding it was simply 'cause and effect', as Sikh religious leaders were naturally offended by its 'blasphemy'. He then singles out an open letter in defence of the playwright, who was in hiding at the time after receiving numerous death threats, for particular criticism.
Of course, we need to place events and ideas in context. Prejudice against Muslims has been encouraged in order to sell the 'war on terror', while at the same time New Labour has promoted the role of religion in public life. As class-based organisation has eroded over the past 20 years, 'identity' politics has tended to come to the fore, often with secular representation being replaced by religious. This can certainly be seen within the working class Indian population in Britain. For all their talk of 'compexity' and 'context', Hassan and your other correspondents on this issue seem to see one homogenous group of Sikhs. The Behzti controversy was interesting in that it exposed the falsity of that idea. It was essentially about one, conservative, section of the community attempting to silence the voice of another.
There clearly was some link between the Behzti protests and those around Jerry Springer: The Opera. The Christian reactionaries who attempted to get Springer banned were clearly inspired by the success of the Sikh protests. The Muslim Association of Britain also subsequently supported the Springer ban. The impulse of religious institutions and leaders is always to ban, censor and intimidate.
Richard Dillon writes that socialists have to draw on the key arguments - no to racism and yes to more spending on involvement in the arts. Yes, OK, but what about censorship? Yes or no to that? I oppose racism and I oppose religious-inspired censorship from wherever it comes.