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  • Re-visiting Behzti: from a different perspective

    by Sunny
    14th February, 2006 at 4:20 pm    

    Christie Davies points me to an interesting article he has written for the Social Affairs Unit blog, on the Sikh play Behzti. But before you say - ‘oh no, not again’, I think its worth discussing this because he raises different arguments to the standard ‘freedom of speech’, or ‘Sikh nutters gone crazy’ ones.

    For a start, he is very disparaging about the quality of the play itself:

    Behzti is a clumsy patch-work quilt with weak and hurried stitching. The language is banal and full of clichés. There are ethnic chants and songs to cheer up the Punjabis in the audience. They no doubt also served to give the other Brummies that false thrill of seeing something “authentic”, as do the crude bits of anthropology that come up from time to time. In the written version there is a glossary of Punjabi words but the obscenities are, needless to say, all in English.

    Whoa! When he says ‘ethnic chants’, I think he means kirtan, which is usually played in a Gurudwara. That is unavoidable because kirtan playing is almost constant at Gurudwaras. But he does have a serious issue with Bhatti’s quality of work.

    You do need to be told in the programme notes that the author Miss Bhatti has written nine episodes of Eastenders. It shows.

    Ouch! He is similarly disparaging about the Birmingham Rep production team:

    Gosh! Cripes! Homosexual passion, serial rape and a miraculous murder in the holy gurdwara. What excitement! How the advanced provincial bourgeoisie must have gripped their seats! What animated chats about it they must have had in the bus going home! How the hearts of the all white management and production team of the Brummie Rep must have glowed at their own emancipated boldness!

    When I was in heated debates about the play following the controversy, other made similar points. But it’s a no-win situation. Others have used gratuitous swearing - Hardeep Singh Kohli in Meet the Magoons - and I’m not a fan of it, but I’m not sure characterising it as ‘please the middle-class bourgeoisie is mildy patronising I feel. How would anyone get around it?

    Davies is also very critical of the government and ‘media luvvies’:

    When it suits them, liberals are quite happy for the mob to deny freedom of speech. It is called “no platform for fascists”, a term so wide as to include anyone who is not a left-wing nutter. There would be a massive police absence. Government ministers would claim that the theatre had provoked the violence or that the violence had never occurred anyway, even if the entire building had been demolished by a left-wing mob and the author badly beaten-up. There is no freedom of speech in Britain and everyone knows it. If a group is classed as “a scheduled minority” by those who hold power in British society, then they can not be depicted in a seriously negative way in a play written by an outsider because that would be defined as “racism”.

    Another important point Christie raises concerns the inclusion of the black guy, who eventually runs off with the lead character. After exploration of his significance, Christie makes points about Asian racism coming into play:

    The fact of the matter is that many British Asians despise blacks and many British blacks resent Asians. These resentments stem both from cultural assumptions long pre-dating either groups arrival in the UK and also from differences in levels of economic achievement. I have seen and studied at first hand the anti-Semitic-type hatred of Asians by Africans in East Africa and the way darkness of skin is a source of low status in India. If an Asian family in England were to learn that their daughter had run off with a Jamaican there would be an explosion and quite possibly violent reprisals.

    In private the Sikhs did talk about this aspect of the play, resented it, saw it as a provocation and related it to the fact that the thirty-six year old, unmarried Miss Bhatti lived with a West African theatre chap.

    While I would not make too many presumptions about Asian racism towards blacks (though it does exist clearly), the second point is more relevant. A lot of the anger also related to the fact that Gurpreet lived with someone who was black. To them it was a way of ‘getting back’ at the community.

    In conclusion:

    The entire Behzti incident was for Britain both a disaster and welcome exposure of hypocrisy. It was a public relations disaster for British Sikhs. At a time when Muslims had been labelled the “bad Asians” - the violent ones, the extremists, the fundamentalists - Sikhs were in a position to become in the public eye the “good Asians” - law abiding, hard-working, British patriots. Now this image has been put in jeopardy - by those Sikhs protesting against a foolish play that would soon have been forgotten anyway.

    This is interesting, though I largely disagree with what comes after it. There are quite a few reasons that rational Asian ‘luvvies’ also wanted the play to go on for, though many were unwilling to say it out in the open.

    The wider point being made, near the end of the article, is that the British arts establishment is hypocritical when dealing with such controversies. They support ‘the minorities’ when angry (a Welsh example also given), but would not extend the same courtesy to English playwrights etc. The same applies to the government, which behaved (and I agree) almost patronisingly towards what was simply mob rule.

    About it being a PR disaster for Sikhs, I made the same points here: Sikh leaders are not without blame for Behzti controversy.

    Regardless, this is a refreshing viewpoint, and its worth reading in full for a discussion.

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    Filed in: Party politics,Race politics,Religion

    13 Comments below   |  

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    1. Clive Davis


      I wasn’t planning to post anything about the cartoons today, partly because I don’t want to jump back onto the soapbox. But the news about sabotage at Michelle Malkin’s site is depressing, whether or not you agree with her. Interesting

    1. Jay Singh — on 14th February, 2006 at 4:30 pm  

      The bottom line is that the idiots who smashed the windows of the theatre were wrong. Secondary to that, they were stupid because their actions gave prominence to what they were protesting over. Duuuh. Over and above everything else it is they that were at fault.

      I agree with Mr Davies’ assessment of the play though. It really does reek of clumsy coon show production for middle class luvvies. Its pandering and ignorance is painful to read.

    2. Jay Singh — on 14th February, 2006 at 4:34 pm  

      I think the people in the Birmingham Rep who ‘invited’ the ‘community representatives’ in the first place to see the play were idiotic. I really would like to know, what did they think they would achieve by doing that?

      I have come to the conclusion that they thought it was their duty to ‘educate the natives’. That they did it with such a mendacious work makes their arrogance breathtaking. Luvvies should know their place - and their place is not to act as social workers, especially when they showcase pamndering coon shows.

      I don’t think they were, or are malicious. I just think they are/were stupid.

    3. Sunny — on 14th February, 2006 at 5:44 pm  

      I don’t buy the point about ‘made for luvvies’, though I interpret it that the ‘luvvies’ handled it badly.

      The implication here seems to be that the arts establishment behaves differently towards plays from minority communities that attract criticism. But there were plenty of people from the arts establishment willing to stand up for FoS and argue for the play to be shown. The people who really bottled out were the Rep and the govt.

    4. Jay Singh — on 14th February, 2006 at 5:52 pm  

      The Rep could have cancelled the other shows and just played it for the remainder of its run, there were only a few days left. Probably the same manager who said ‘lets call in the elders’ was the idiot who made that decision. Plus, they would have lost money.

      The play is incompetent, clumsy, mendacious and pandering. Professor Davies has hit the nail on the head in that regard.

      But hey, luvvies should be free to get off on that if they want to.

    5. David T — on 15th February, 2006 at 11:11 am  

      When it suits them, liberals are quite happy for the mob to deny freedom of speech. It is called “no platform for fascists”, a term so wide as to include anyone who is not a left-wing nutter.

      I’m not

    6. Robert — on 15th February, 2006 at 1:19 pm  

      The play is incompetent, clumsy, mendacious and pandering.

      I’ve been having similar thoughts for a while. As with the Mohammed cartoons, so with Bhetzi and the recent Romans In Britain revival: Judged on their artistic merit, they may not be very good - it is the protestors who draw attention to the so-called ‘art’ and make it important through their protest.

    7. Sunny — on 15th February, 2006 at 2:38 pm  

      I feel uncomfortable comparing the two.

      Firstly because I felt the cartoons were indeed meant to be disparaging and racist and orientalist. So I wouldn’t support a racist product, even though I may support their right to do so.

      Secondly, Behzti was made by someone Sikh, about the Sikh community. That’s important because she (for most people) has more knowledge than others outside the religion of what may go on inside a Gurudwara. The cartoons were produced by a newspaper with a racist history, in a country where Muslims are looked down on, and made about them, etc.

      Saying that, I don’t think artitstic merit has anything to do with it. Even if Gurpreet’s play was absolutely crap, it still has a right to be shown.

      Indeed people make it worse by protesting, but it doesn’t mean a play should be judged on artistic merit for what should be shown or not.

    8. Jai — on 15th February, 2006 at 2:47 pm  

      =>”important because she (for most people) has more knowledge than others outside the religion of what may go on inside a Gurudwara”

      I don’t want to get into this argument again, but Gurpreet admitted that the play was completely fabricated and not at all based on any real-life experiences or incidents regarding what goes on inside gurdwaras. Her alleged knowledge of the “reality” of gurdwaras is therefore irrelevent in this particular instance, because she subsequently stated that it wasn’t based on her “real-life” experiences or knowledge at all.

    9. Jay Singh — on 15th February, 2006 at 2:52 pm  

      I agree with Sunny:

      Saying that, I don’t think artitstic merit has anything to do with it. Even if Gurpreet’s play was absolutely crap, it still has a right to be shown.

      And bearing this in mind we can deal with the substance of the play - and when a play lies and asserts that menstruating women are forbidden from entering a gurdwara then you can call it for what it is - mendacious pandering. It shouldnt cause pain to state this, when we all agree with the principle.

      Same way that I support the Mohammad cartoon publication - I didnt like them but you have to stick by the principle even through gritted teeth. But you shoul dat least be honest about what is the substance of the thing.

    10. Sunny — on 15th February, 2006 at 3:16 pm  

      Jai - its called fiction. That doesn’t mean she does not have any knowledge of what goes inside a Gurudwara. If I write something on Gurudwaras which was fictitious, it doesn’t others can assume that I know nothing about them.

    11. Jai — on 15th February, 2006 at 3:25 pm  

      Correct, but the difference is claiming that certain negative events portrayed in a work of fiction are based on reality. That was the initial publicity for the play, at least until it backfired and, subsequently, statements retracting the claim had to be made.

    12. Jai — on 15th February, 2006 at 3:35 pm  

      People have every right to create a piece of fiction which may involve topics or events which are potentially going to be offensive to others, without necessarily having to be afraid of physical reprisals. However, the contents of the piece of fiction should not be misrepresented as “the truth” — or based on the truth — if, in reality, this is not the case.

      Otherwise it just becomes slander and propaganda — just like some of the soaps on the Indian satellite/cable channels which grossly distort the depiction of Sikh religious tenets and the practice of these tenets by fictional Sikh families.

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