If it wasn't for those pesky Muslims and their meddling fatwas, few of us would even have heard of The Satanic Verses. Rushdie himself would be nought but a poor man's Hanif Kurieshi, Have I Got News For You a distant dream. Let's face it, he'd probably be back hawking cream cakes for a living. Bearing that in mind, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatt must be absolutely thrilled to bits this week, and simultaneously soiling her lehnga with fear. What a rush!
Last Saturday evening 400-odd seething Sikhs sought out Birmingham's Repertory Theatre and went psycho. But why? Were the Krankies in town? Was Nadia? What on earth could had driven these - one presumes - normally peaceful men to storm a theatre and injure five riot police? As it happens, and as if often happens, it was just words. Words words words. The play is called Behzti, 'dishonour' in Punjabi, and it apparently paints the inside of a Sikh temple with 'desperate aspiration and dangerous deals', and then with an extra coat of kissing, dancing, homosexuality, sexual abuse and murder. And the Sikhs don't like that. They've seen what's happened to the Roman Catholics over the years and they want none of it.
Before this whole phewrory had blown up however, the Birmingham Rep had praised Bhatt's play, but with reservations. In Act Two, they said, when the protagonists - two Sikh women, a mother and daughter - enter the temple for the first time in years, 'the play suddenly loses its subtlety and becomes a bloodbath.' They go on. 'She clearly has great dramatic skill, creating some lovely moments of tension and some highly memorable characters... but in many ways these talents are wasted as the tale disappears into mayhem.' Could it have been these, mere dramaturgical bones of contention, which forced a few bad apples, a certain theatrically-minded militant Sikh set, to take arms against a sea of artistic endeavour, and by opposing, and lobbing a few rocks, have it taken off the stage? No. Not art. Merely the protesters' claim that the play mocks their faith. Well boo fucking hoo.
What infants! It's not even as if they have to contend, as Jehovah's Witnesses do, with the onslaught of out-and-out open-mouthed mirth that greets their every risible lamentation. And what pathetic amount of faith must you have in the first place if it's going to be rocked by mere opinion, or even dissent? Grow *up*, for God's sake. Their thinking is all skewed. It seems to go, 'She said something bad about my faith, therefore I'm going to pick three of the five cardinal vices of Sikhism and freely indulge in them.' Sticks and fucking stones, man. Turn the other cheek, like a proud and peaceful Sikh. Or write your own play! Or refute these offences rationally. Or, by all means, wave placards and chant your fury, but don't start lobbing bricks. And surely to heaven there are many, many more avenues to go down before you start issuing death threats.
But for now at least the rule of mob has been victorious. How sad. We think of ourselves as the Free World. Freedom is the cornerstone of our political grit. We're free. To be what we want. Any old time. Free the World. Free Nelson Mandela. Free the Brookside Two. Just words at the end of the day. Words that beg to signify so much, but which are crushed by the tampering hands of Fear. Yea. For Fea is the only reason those foolish fearful Sikhs went hog-wild in Birmingham last weekend. They are afraid. Already at the margins of society, they perhaps feel more than most the need to hang on to what makes them strong, to hang on to what they believe gives them their sense of community, their sense of identity. At all costs. If they allow people to fuck with their religion after all, what more is there? There is, of course - one rationally imagines - a lot more, just as one hopes there is a lot more to your average hardline Catholic, Satanist or Jew. But these hair-hiding cock-munchers, these people who break theatre windows and threaten the lives of our foremost quite-suddenly-notorious dramatists, have clearly got nothing in their wretched hearts but fear and hollow holy rhetoric.
Behzti may now be winging its wicked way to London's Royal Court. As Ramin Gray, Associate Director of the theatre points out, 'Irrespective of the quality of this play, I think we have to see it.' Well exactly. You see what you've done, you silly Sikhs? Now everyone will find out what you're like.
At the time of writing, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatt is still in hiding, and still in fear of her life.