But this does not mean that we should allow ourselves to be blackmailed by militant fanatics who shelter under the authority of religion and employ the freedoms of Western democracy to attack and undermine those very freedoms.
Klaus Wowereit, the mayor of Berlin, was right when he took issue with Deutsche Oper’s decision to cancel Mr. Neuenfels’s “Idomeneo.” While acknowledging the legitimate concerns about security, Mr. Wowereit nonetheless insisted that “Our ideas about openness, tolerance and freedom must be lived on the offensive. Voluntary self-limitation gives those who fight against our values a confirmation in advance that we will not stand behind them.”
Quite right. Today it was Mozart. Tomorrow perhaps it will be Shakespeare. Or Dante, who after all has a pretty hot place reserved for Muhammad in “The Divine Comedy.” It is not–not yet–too late to put a stop to our habit of appeasing a murderous fanaticism that demands privileges and indulgences it refuses to grant to others.
Bravo and well put! And I don’t think we should be sanguine about Muslim pressure here in America. There are radical mosques all over the United States. We know that there have been instances of Amerian Muslims involved in radicalism. Also, in 2002, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park cancelled the high-school tour of a play, Paradise, after a storm of protest from the Muslim group CAIR because of its portrayal of a suicide bomber. The author, Glyn O’Malley, did go on to expand it into an adult-length play and I believe it has had a couple of productions elsewhere. But read what happened in Cincinnati as explained by O’Malley in an interview:
Paradise had a bumpy ride to production. It was commissioned by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, who was initially going to produce it in 2003, and then canceled. What happened?I went to a reading of the 5th draft of the play at the Playhouse in December 2002. They’d invited a Rabbi, a Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, and they thought, one or two members of the Islamic community to come sit around the table in the rehearsal room with us while actors read the draft and then share their thoughts. Because this was meant to tour high-schools, this was a courtesy that Ed Stern and Bert Goldstein extended to the communities within Cincinnati who would relate to the play directly. It was the usual “in-house” read-through before the script went on to its next draft.
Well, instead of the “one or two” members of the Islamic community, we had a room full of about seventeen—not all at the table because there was no room. The predominant players—all men—did sit with us, each with a script to follow along. The vibe in the room was hostile from the very beginning. The play was read. We broke for fifteen minutes, and then I came back to face an all out attack on the play by the Muslim men at the table. It seemed that everything in the play—down to the names of characters—was an “offense.”
It was nowhere in the range of even a “heated debate,” it was “The Crisis.” As soon as it seemed like some reason might prevail, the sands would fall right out from under our feet and it was back to the invectives, the innuendos, the inferences of “danger,” and simply because it was amazingly never said directly by any of the men at the table except one who couched it the catch-all “Zionist,” a Jewish driven project.
I knew I’d written a fairly “balanced” play that presented the convicted beliefs of the most polarized parties on either side of “The Crisis.” I wasn’t alone in that: The Playhouse’s Artistic Director said as much, as did a number of other theatre professionals to whom I showed the draft.
Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park left the door wide open to them all. In fact, it was emphatically stated at the end of that very long afternoon by Bert Goldstein that the play was on its way to its sixth draft and that they would have another reading, and they would be invited back.
Before that could happen, however, my most vociferous adversary, and the man who had demanded I give him a copy of my play so that he could “correct” me, under the umbrella of CAIR (The Council on American Islamic Relationships) set the course for the events that followed. They met with two high school principals, and essentially scared the hell out of them. (The tour was completely booked.) They dropped out, and very quickly the rest of the tour began to fold like a deck of cards. At the same time they set about drawing up a thing called “The Fact Sheet on Paradise” listing about twenty “violations” in the script. An amazing feat to me since had I been asked at the time to write a “Fact Sheet,” on my own play, I’d not have been able to as it was still in process and revision. They walked into a Hearing of The City Commission of Human Relations and plopped down their “Fact Sheets” in front of all of its members, received an actual formal Hearing, and that’s when all hell broke lose.
At ten in the morning of the day after the Hearing, I got a call telling me that the Theatre was 300% behind the play. By six in the evening, their Board had met and decided that this “was a battle we do not want to take on,” and they dropped the play. By the next day, The Commission on Human Relations realized what a hot potato having the actual script in hand was, and they returned it, and the “Fact Sheets” and said they were not “in the censorship business.” By then, the censoring had already been done. Cincinnati High School students would not be seeing a production of my play, Paradise.
I respect the men at Cincinnati-Playhouse-in-the-Park very much. Had I been in their shoes at the time, I might have made the same call. The “storm” was so huge, it was beyond their means to bring it under control.