I’ve just been sent this letter by a playwright friend, who received it from Ben Payne, Associate Director, Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
If you endorse the letter’s position, please do add your name and profession and send it back to Ben Payne here.
I hope you will be able to take a few moments to read the following and to add your name to it. It would be great if you could show your support by forwarding it on to anyone you think would like to endorse this message. Please just add your name and your profession and circulate back to me or indicate your support for it by e-mailing me back. Our aim is to get the letter published promptly.
We, the undersigned, deplore the violent events that have very regrettably led to the cancelling of the remaining performances of BEHZTI (DISHONOUR) by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti at Birmingham Repertory Theatre on grounds of the safety of the audience, performers and staff of the theatre.
We all have the right to be protected from abuse on the grounds of our race or religion. We also have the right to peacefully protest if a work of art offends us. We do not have the right to use violence and intimidation to prevent that work of art from being seen by others.
We particularly deplore the stance of those community and religious leaders of whatever faith who have condemned the production of this play, misrepresented it in clear ignorance of its intent and content, but have not condemned those who have used their faith as an excuse for hooliganism.
To verbally and physically threaten a writer, audience members, performers and theatre staff is unacceptable. To attempt to censor a play because some incidents in it would thereby be rendered less offensive to some people if they were set elsewhere is unacceptable. To stop the production of a work of art by means of force and continued threats of force is unacceptable. To make death threats against a writer and a writer’s relatives is unacceptable.
Doubtless, some will see the fact that the play’s production has been brought to an end by this campaign of intimidation as some kind of victory. The reality is we all lose by it. The violent abuse of power to silence the individual in a community is one of the main themes of this writer’s play. It is a sad irony therefore that the violent actions of some of the protestors on Saturday have actually only served to confirm the play’s relevance to us all..
It is a legitimate function of art to provoke debate and sometimes to express controversial ideas. A genuinely free, pluralist society would celebrate this aspect of our culture. Those who use violent means to silence it must be vigorously opposed and challenged by all of us, whatever our faith, belief or opinions.