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Tuesday, February 25, 2014 

An opera takes on Islam

There may be hope in Europe after all for showbiz productions that have no fear in casting Islam negatively. Here, it's a French opera:
You know how it is. You’re finishing off Friday prayers, wondering what to do with your evening. You notice some women in a cattle truck and decide to engage in a spot of ritual humiliation, bunging the women into burkas and forcing them to distribute petals in front of your feet. Critiques of Islam don’t get much more savage than the one delivered by a new French production of Rameau’s 18th century opéra-ballet Les Indes galantes. The third act assault on Iran’s patriarchy drew gasps from the audience – and even a protest at the Toulouse premiere.

The idea of casting Islam as an oppressor is a concept almost completely unknown to the art world. In Britain, the only fictional role open to Muslims is that of harassed victim. That Les Indes galantes arrives at the Barbican Hall on March 8 in a concert performance (burka-less) is, then, no surprise

The arts have diligently avoided taking part in this cultural battle. When works specifically invoke Islam, the reaction is sweaty-browed. Out comes the airbrush. Film and TV are notably nervy. Producers aren’t foolish enough to completely avoid the dramatic scenarios that Islamist terror throws up but most are still extremely keen to avoid the root cause. Surreal contortions result: Czech despots, Micronesian suicide bombers, Inuit terrorists.
I'm afraid they're right about Islam not being explored explicitly in past showbiz products, even in TV and movies where criminals from Arabic-like countries are portrayed negatively. The Koran's verses certainly never get quoted. For now, it's good to see there's a stage production out there whose producers haven't cowered on the issue.

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