By Amitabh Pal on September 22, 2011

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.

I’m 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 Jazeera’s 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

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Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.

On November 20 every year for the last fifteen years, transgender people gather for vigil ceremonies to acknowledge...

Yesterday the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would approve construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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