Politics & Policy

The Meaning of a Riot

In Britain, Sikh militants close a play--early.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the January 31, 2005, issue of National Review.

By now, we are so used to the idea of Islamic extremism and intolerance that we are surprised when anyone else shows the same disposition. But fanaticism, like totalitarianism, is a permanent temptation: It gives one such a warm, glowing sense of metaphysical purpose beyond the petty purposes of day-to-day existence.

#ad#Nevertheless, the riot by a few hundred Sikhs at the Repertory Theatre in Birmingham–which led to the evacuation of the audience, caused injuries to several policemen and a lot of broken glass, and resulted in the withdrawal of the play to which they objected–came as a surprise to the general public. Even the least multiculturally attuned of us can see that the Sikhs are not Muslims: Why, then, were they displaying such bigotry? Surely, it is the task of the Muslims alone to be bigots?

The play, by a 35-year-old Sikh woman playwright called Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, portrayed the rape and murder of a woman inside a Sikh temple by a man who (as it happened) had also had a homosexual relationship with his victim’s father. It seems these days that all dramatic puddings must be over-egged to tickle the jaded palates of theatergoers, for whom rape in a temple unaccompanied by any other perversion would be simply too tame to attract attention. At any rate, the playwright soon received credible death threats from fanatical Sikhs and had to go into hiding.

These events came as a surprise because the Sikhs–the second-largest religious group of immigrants to England from the Indian subcontinent–have in general integrated well into British society. They are not felt to pose any kind of threat; they do well, both educationally and commercially. Despite their striking appearance, they are rarely treated as a separate group by the media, which is a sign of–and silent tribute to–their success. Unlike young Muslim men of Pakistani origin, they show no signs of becoming gaol fodder. With a few exceptions, their marriage customs are distinctly more civilized than those of the Muslims, and in some respects better than the native ones. Unlike the Muslims, they do not force their children, by threats of violence or even death, to marry those whom they have selected for them, but rather they give them the right of veto. Their theory is that love follows marriage, and deepens as the couple comes to share experiences, including that of having children. It is a more mature and realistic theory, in most cases, than the native Romeo-and-Juliet theory, which so often nowadays ends in bitterness, recrimination, and divorce (or separation, when, as increasingly, there is no marriage in the first place)…

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