Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
A Pennsylvania school district has cancelled the staging of an Arabian Nights-style musical fantasy set in medieval Baghdad because of the 9/11 attacks.
Im not making this up. Apparently, some folks in the Richland School District complained that performing Kismet, a Tony-Award winning musical from the 1950s, was inappropriate. (Kismet is a Turkish and Urdu word meaning fate.) They objected because they said the play was to be staged too quickly after the tenth anniversary of the attacks (even though it was due to open in February). And they said they were too close to the site where United Airline 93 crashed, which is roughly thirty-five miles away.
There were some concerns, School Superintendent Thomas Fleming Jr. told the local paper. After reviewing the script, the decision was made to move on rather than risk controversy.
How cowardly can you be? Fleming and his colleagues caved in to the ignorance of a handful.
Those who called for the play to be pulled seemed to forget that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. This is free-association at its worst. Just because a play was based roughly in the same part of the world, its staging becomes a problem?
A majority of comments in the local paper, the Tribune Democrat, opposed the school district’s decision. An online poll at the same paper also found that those opposed to scuttling “Kismet” to be in a majority, though at 174-116, the numbers were more evenly divided than I would have liked them to be.
From what I’ve heard about the play (though I haven’t seen it or the movie version), it appears to be fairly kitschy. But that is not what people are objecting to, since the replacement, “Oklahoma,” rates even higher on the cheesiness scale.
All this would be almost comical, were the implications not that serious. Bashing Arabs and Muslims seemed to be on the wane for a few years, but it’s made a comeback in recent times. It started with the campaign against the Islamic interfaith center in lower Manhattan last year. Over the past year, such fears have been spread by the anti-Shariah law campaign ongoing in several states.
The use of terms such as creeping Shariah is a ploy to instill fear, said Deanna Othman of the Islamic Society of North America at a panel I was with her on in Indianapolis last week.
There have also been a series of hearings held on Muslim-Americans by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Congressman Peter King and repeated anti-Islam statements by national figures such as Republican presidential aspirants Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.
Rightwing activists, elected officials and even some presidential candidates have launched an overt assault on American Muslims, using a religious minority as a scapegoat for any number of national fears and frustrations, said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way, in highlighting a report his group recently issued on the conservative anti-Islam movement.
The result is a widespread suspicion of anything to do with Islam and the Middle East that has manifested itself recently in a number of ways. Whole Foods just last month backtracked on acknowledging Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, in its stores. And the month before, the appearance of Al Jazeeras Washington bureau chief at a museum fundraiser in Maine drew objections. And then there is the nationwide campaign against Muslim religious sites, with three dozen facing opposition in the past couple of years.
The “Kismet” cancellation is part of the same trend, cause by similar ignorance and fear. When and where is it going to end?
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Iraq Still in a Terrible Mess."
Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter