British author Salman Rushdie, forced into hiding for years after Iran’s leader ordered him killed, has joined protests against the axing of a play depicting rape and murder in a Sikh temple.
Birmingham Repertory Theater canceled “Behzti” (Dishonor) after violent protests by 400 Sikh demonstrators Dec. 18 in which three police officers were hurt.
Scripter Gupreet Kaur Bhatti, herself a Sikh, has gone into hiding after receiving death threats.
Many have drawn a parallel with Indian-born Rushdie, who was declared a blasphemer and ordered killed by Iran’s late Ayatollah Khomeini for his novel “The Satanic Verses.”
“It is pretty terrible to hear government ministers expressing approval of the ban and failing to condemn the violence, when they should be supporting freedom of expression,” Rushdie told the Sunday Telegraph paper.
“If being upset is the only requirement to banning something, there will be nothing on in the theaters.”
Meanwhile, the British Sikh Consultative Forum, representing 42 Sikh organizations, called Friday for the death threats against Bhatti, a well-known writer of British soaps, to be withdrawn and said they have no endorsement from their community.
High-profile figures from the British arts community, including poet laureate Andrew Motion, have condemned the cancellation as an affront to freedom of expression.
“To stop the production of a work of art by means of force and continued threats of force is unacceptable,” said an open letter signed by some 700 actors, writers and directors in Thursday’s Guardian paper.
“We all have the right to protest peacefully 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,” the letter added.
On Wednesday, the Commission for Racial Equality and Arts Council England announced talks about the ramifications of the protest for early in 2005.
“It’s not an attempt to lay limits to free speech or artistic expression,” CRE chairman Trevor Philips said, “but to find a way of talking that does not involve bricks going through people’s windows.”
There are 336,000 Sikhs living in the U.K.