in the garden


Mar 2005 Journal

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Making 'white' black

Thirty years ago Birmingham, Alabama achieved global notoriety for inter-ethnic conflict as Black protesters demanded equal civil rights with Whites.

At the end of 2004 Birmingham, West Midlands, saw violence between police and Blacks - a.k.a. Sikhs - protesting at a play that offended their religious sensibilities.

We have been here before. In 1989 Muslim protesters burnt copies of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses outside Bradford City Hall. Though nominally non-violent, the auto-da-fe followed in the wake of the fatwa that caused the deaths of several of Rushdie's translators and publishers in other parts of the world.

The Bradford police treated the book burners leniently, for all that publicly incinerating a book doesn't fall far short of incitement to burning its author. The same charge of leniency can be levelled at the Birmingham police, who arrested two of the demonstrators for wilful damage. It is unfortunate that a Sikh spokesman reportedly described the director of the Birmingham Rep as 'White', i.e. insensitive to minority feelings.

Now, if there is one group in this country who are totally colour-blind, it is the acting fraternity. I have seen black actors play Plantagenet kings and Shropshire milkmaids on stage. Nowadays thespian racial sensitivity is so acute that no white actor would dare play Othello in black face as Laurence Olivier once did.

As so often happens, the Sikhs v Birmingham Rep story also has a Jewish angle. Asked about stage censorship, Corin Redgrave referred with regret to the banning some years ago of Jim Allen's play Perdition, which alleged Zionist complicity in the Holocaust. Redgrave's fellow-Trot, the film director Ken Loach, summoned the shade of the partial Holocaust victim Erich Fried, who reputedly said he was envious of Jim Allen and wished he had written Perdition.

Reading this left me speechless. When I recovered my voice I could only groan: with Jews like Fried - or, for that matter Trotsky - who needs enemies?
Richard Grunberger

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