Text and Context

Issue section: 

Patrick Connellan makes some strong points concerning freedom of expression and opposition to censorship ('Thought for the Play', February SR). The Birmingham Rep made a mistake in closing Behzti, but there's more to the situation than he apparently believes.

We can disagree with the Sikh protesters for the threats they made, and focus on the real message of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's play, but what we can't do is rip these things from their context. The context is racism, in this case the racism that leaves a community feeling powerless in the way it is represented. It's not enough that the writer is Sikh, nor that the theatre had a few people in to discuss the play during rehearsals. How many times have theatres tried to set schemes up in local communities? How many Sikh writers are there? More importantly, how many Sikhs feel confident to attend writing classes or join theatre groups? When theatres, and LEAs for that matter, begin answering questions like this, they can rightly say they did what they could to avoid opposition from angry communities.

Secondly, I think Patrick rather dismisses religion. There's a very important sense in which turning to religion is an entirely rational way of dealing with a harsh, racist world. Also, it's difficult to equate one religion with another in the way he seems to do. The Sikh protests against Behzti were in no way equivalent to the Christian protests against Jerry Springer: The Opera. One was the outburst of a minority, the other of followers of the state religion: one experiences racism, and the other is implicated in it.

Socialists have a responsibility to draw out the main arguments - in this case no to racism, yes to more spending on involvement in the arts.

Richard Dillon