Hiding behind the desire to promote dialogue about issues like intolerance, women’s rights and gay rights, the dance company, the art critics and the audience took part in what blogger Philippa Thomas sharply summed up as “gossiping behind somebody’s back.” What few attempts there are to insert a ‘Muslim perspective’ come across as insincere when completely drowned out by the countless examples of their crimes.
Unremittingly insular, the show accuses one religion and one minority group in England of committing evil acts while bullying the rest of us into accepting this discourse, lest we should begin to resemble the angry brown man carrying faeces in his pocket.
In another scene, dancers stop and recite the names of those murdered by Muslim fundamentalists. We have heard of most of these tragic cases before, Van Gogh’s killing made global headlines and monuments were built in his honour, but what about the Muslims killed by occupying western soldiers? Or why no mention of the many writers, thinkers, artists and so many others killed by western-backed government and dictators? Or why not hate crimes, as this is what these are, committed by anyone else other than Muslims?
The performance completely strips the debate on Islam out of its political and cultural context. It adds nothing to the debate, only putting a fancy cultured hat on the ugly face of Islamophobia. After all, “this” is not a taboo subject in England. And whoever who feels the need to express these views should look into membership into one of the far-right and notorious Islamophobic groups like the BNP or English Defense League.
The EDL’s mission statement reads: “we must not be afraid to speak freely about these issues. This is why the EDL will continue to work to protect the inalienable rights of all people to protest against radical Islam’s encroachment into the lives of non-Muslims.”
The EDL had ties with the man in Norway who killed 76 young people last year in Oslo. For hours after this massacre, most western media speculated as to which Islamic group the killer belonged to. Of course, we later discovered that the killer was a white Christian Norwegian, who decided to take action against what he saw as “multiculturalism” and the influx of Muslim immigrants in Europe.
The Norway killer’s ideas are, scarily, not uncommon in Europe these days. What he calls his manifesto quotes not only Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali who DV8 portrayed as a noble victim writing on her body and arms as an act of sacrifice and authorship. Ali has since said some extraordinary things justifying the killer’s actions. Although the Guardian’s Billington admits to having reservations about its intellectual content — perhaps not wanting to sound like the faeces-wielding brown man — says he “wouldn’t call the show Islamophobic.”
In the 21st century a company like DV8 would (rightfully) have never considered producing a similar performance about another minority religion in Europe, like Judaism, nor would it have been hosted at the National. The promotion of anti-Semitism and stereotypes of Judaism and Jewish people in Europe has proven extremely dangerous over the past 100 years. So the question must be asked: why is it OK to stereotype and reduce another group of people to the actions of a few?
Can we talk about this? didn’t stop at the National. It went on a tour elsewhere in Europe before eventually returning to England after a show in Norway of all places. As western wars in the predominantly Muslim world continue, and Muslim citizens and immigrants of Europe are increasingly demonized, what “we” really should talk about is how to bridge the divide and eliminate intolerance, whether by Muslims, theatre companies, or anyone else.
You can read our interview with Lloyd Newson here.
Tania El Khoury is a live artist based in London and Beirut. Her website is taniaelkhoury.com
Matthew Cassel is a journalist and photographer from Chicago living in the Arab world. His website is JustImage.org.