Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Hypocrisy Under the Guise of “Free Speech”

The lead in a story from a recent issue of the Cincinnati Enquirer read: “Ohio Senate Bill 9 troubles Majed Dabdoub.”

There are indeed a number of troubling things about SB 9, a Buckeye version of the Patriot Act, sponsored by Senator Jacobson, a Dayton Republican. The ACLU contends that the bill provides government with broad powers to investigate and prosecute potentially any activity.

Mr. Dabdoub, a local spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations and a Palestinian immigrant and structural engineer residing in Sycamore Township, waxed poetically about the bill of rights at the end of the article:

“For us, who came from other countries, we came for what this country stands for – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of everything. This [Senate Bill 9] is taking away all those rights from us, from all the citizens.”

Bravo! What a heartfelt sentiment uttered by someone who is newly arrived on our shores expressing what many of us native born take for granted. However, the applause rings a little hollow when you consider the source – for Mr. Dabdoub is a despicable and disingenuous little censor in his own right.

If anyone is interested in taking a lesson in ancient history – say, almost exactly two years ago – you might find Dabdoub’s concern for “free speech” a little dubious indeed. Given his role in the Paradise fiasco at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park two years ago shows an entirely different Dabdoub: Dabdoub the censor, Dabdoub the intimidator, and Dabdoub the anti-Semite. For good measure, he labelled the play’s author a “racist”, which he later retracted.

For those of you who do not remember the controversy surrounding Glyn O’Malley’s play commissioned by the Playhouse in the Park, it was awarded the $5,000 New Play Prize for Young Audiences and scheduled for a school tour.

Paradise was centered on the real life suicide bombing carried out by Ayat al-Akhras, an 18-year-old Palestinian woman who blew herself in Jerusalem in March of 2002, killing herself and two others including 17-year-old Rachel Levy. In an interview with the New York Times, O’Malley said he had hoped to create “fictional characters driven by psychological, physical, emotion factors, not religion.” He continued, “I’ve worked to show the hard-line point of view from both sides of the conflict without justifying or condoning suicide bombing.” As if anyone could.

The Playhouse had tackled difficult subjects in the past, presenting plays such as Fires in the Mirror about race riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and presented it shortly after the 2001 riot here. Artistic Director Ed Stern said they had presented plays dealing with “homosexuality, incest, parental abuse and American foreign policy. We want to take works with social consciousness and resonance,” and “we’ve withstood all criticism.” That is, until he met Mr. Dabdoub and his gang of bullyboys.

At an unrehearsed reading anticipating the sensitive nature of the topic, where several members of the community were invited including a professor of Islamic history, a rabbi and Mr. Dabdoub, Mr. Dabdoub appeared with ten other Muslims who were not invited.In what was hoped to be an open discussion and forum for constructive criticism, the atmosphere quickly turned rancorous and invectives were hurled at O’Malley and Stern and their “racist, Zionist piece of propaganda.”

Dabdoub and his colleagues tried to involve the Human Relations Commission of Cincinnati in their campaign of censorship with a “fact sheet” alleging the play was “hateful, deceitful, vengeful, spineless and opportunistic.” At this point, one can’t help but wonder if any of these people had ever read Shakespeare’s Macbeth. To their credit, the commission sent a message to Dabdoub saying, “We are not in the business of censorship.” Alas, this was the last honorable act in the whole affair.

Having failed to get the sanctions he desired, he then resorted to a quiet campaign of intimidation. “Expressing his concerns” Dabdoub succeeded in getting the principals of several high schools to cancel the play in their schools. His reason? The fictional character in the play dons a hijab before she commits the suicide bombing. According to Dabdoub he has two daughters who attend high school and they wear head coverings and he fears students might become confused. (As I am writing this it is International Women’s Day and the whole matter of head covering as an act of oppression should make one question Mr. Dabdoub’s commitment to individual rights.)

Shortly thereafter, Stern, expressing his regret, cancelled the play.

Rabbi Barr’s comment (he attended the reading) speaks volumes, “Cincinnati’s reputation as a community that tries to control the arts and allows bigots to dominate the discussion is accurate. Once again Cincinnati looks small, foolish and provincial.”

So, where were the “free speech advocates” during this episode? Surprisingly quiet. Always eager to pounce on transgression of fundamentalist Christians (and rightfully so), they seem to have swallowed diefenbachia when it comes to questioning the motives of Muslims. Is this some kind of misplaced multiculturial piety or is it just plain cowardice? After all, Islam has a pretty nasty record of late when it comes to outspoken writers, poets and playwrights. Salman Rushdie’s death sentence by fatwa was renewed this past St. Valentine’s Day. Several of his translators and publishers have already been attacked and killed. The brutal murder of Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh this past November by an Islamic fanatic is enough to give one pause. There are countless other lesser known writers who live in exile and fear because they have questioned the nature of Islam.

No, Mr. Dabdoub, you are not concerned about free speech, you are only concerned about your own narrow interests. In order to embrace the free exchange of ideas, you must be prepared to hear things you do not like, and then, be prepared to defend that individual's right to say them.

Postscript: Glyn O’Malley’s Paradise will finally take the stage this Saturday on Broadway. Perhaps there is some justice after all.

©2005 Barney F. McClelland

As I Please


At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barney, I read the same article in the Enquirer on March 8, yesterday. The objections by Mr Dabdoub to the security measures that are being proposed by the State of Ohio seemed out of proportion. As the article mentioned, many were local versions of already enacted Federal laws and regulations. There is no additional burden in this duplication. There is no additional loss of freedom.

Given the episode regarding the play, Mr Dabdoub's actions speak more to resistance of oversight by government, resistance to comment and examination by others of the actions and attitudes of his faith and ethnic group. He expounds the freedom of this society, and the West in general. Part of that freedom is the ability of others to engage in an examintion of beliefs, an examination of actions in a very public manner. He can claim no protected status to avoid such scrutiny and interaction.

I have to wonder does he really want the freedoms we have for himself and others, or does he seek to use those very freedoms to pursue an agenda which seeks to silence his critics, which allows him to operate without scrutiny, where outsiders are not allowed to know, comment on, or regulate the actions of his group.

These are not the actions and attitudes of the Western tradition of openness and engagement, of competition of ideas, of intellect and investigation, of reason and law. It would seem more as if it is desired to import the dictatorial mannerisms of the Middle East, attempting to transform our society in part, if not in whole,

At 11:44 PM, Anonymous wordstream said...

This head covering that the women wear in their culture is not a sign of oppression to most of them. It's an ancient part of their culture for a woman to be modest in public. In the 1940s-50s in the U.S. it was common for a Christian woman to be seen wearing a dress down to her ankles and wearing a scarf covering her head and part of her face.

The Muslims look at our culture and they see that an entire state (Nevada) has been set aside for prostitution and mom and Dad go there to have fun and they see the Christian and Jewish leaders of the U.S. heavily engaged in child prostitution and taking "sex trips" to southeast Asia to have sex with 8 year old children and it makes them feel uncomfortatable.

Let's put the shoe on the other foot. What if the Playhouse in the Park decided to have a play about Jews and Christians committing atrocities aganist Muslims which is very common, such as Israeli soldiers routinely shooting Muslim children for sport and Bush and his father and Clinton dumping 20,000 tons of DU radioactive dust on Iraq to poison them for the next 4.5 billion years thus committing a genocide that totally dwarfs the Nazi holocaust of the Jews. There would be such an outrage among the members of Amberley Village and Indian Hills that the playwright would never make it out of town.

You have to look at the other side. it's also true that a great deal of hate speech and hate crimes have been directed towards U.S. Muslim citizens since Sept.11, 2001 and that makes them very edgy. I can understand why a lot of them are very uptight especially now that the evidence is pouring in that the 911 attack was committed by the neo nazis and zionists in the Bush administration performing a sleight of hand where the real planes were ordered to turn off their transponders and land at a secret air base and were replaced by remote control aircraft intercepting their flight paths carrying missiles to create spectacular fire balls and penetration. All of this was done to use fear and bigotry to make it easy to start wars of conquest and to seize control of 750 billon barrels of oil in the Middle East with the full blessings of the Christians and Jews of the U.S..

At 4:40 AM, Anonymous Wow said...

Wow Wordstream, how can you make that stuff up about Israel and radioactive dust and say it with a straight (but deeply paranoid) face? LOLOL

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