Lloyd Newson, creator of “Can We Talk About This?”, speaks to Maryam Omidi.
Lloyd Newson tackles issues of free speech, Islam and multiculturalism in his recent verbatim theatre production, which combines text drawn from interviews with movement. This is the point of departure for an interview with Maryam Omidi.
MO: Freedom of speech, multiculturalism, censorship, Islam – why did you decide to focus on these themes?
LN: Previously I had made a verbatim theatre work called To Be Straight With You, which looked at the three Abrahamic religions in relation to homosexuality. We interviewed religious people, non-religious people, pro-gay, anti-gay and pretty much everyone in between. We also specifically interviewed Jewish, Christian and Muslim homosexuals. One thing was very clear: in the sample of 40 or so gay British Muslims that we interviewed, none wanted their true identity used in the work. They were fearful of reprisals, not from the white homophobes, but from within their own Muslim communities. Of course, there were one or two gay Jews and gay Christians who also didn’t want their identities revealed but this wasn’t the general pattern.
I also spoke to producers of a programme called Gay Muslims on Channel 4. They had interviewed 200 British gay Muslims and only one was prepared to have their face revealed in the documentary. Do gay Muslims only feel free to speak in the UK when their identities are hidden?
A couple of years later, in 2009, the Centre for Muslim Studies here in the UK, along with Gallup, a respected polling organization, did a survey asking British Muslims if they found homosexuality morally acceptable. They interviewed 500 British Muslims. Zero per cent found homosexuality morally acceptable, compared to 58 per cent of the non-Muslim British population.
Of course there is Islamophobia in Britain – like there’s homophobia within the British Muslim community – but one should be suspicious about all terms ending in phobia. For example one of our interviewees, Kenan Malik, a broadcaster, writer and scientist, interviewed Sir Iqbal Sacranie back in 2005 when he was the head of the Muslim Council of Britain. Sir Iqbal Sacranie is a man who said that death was too good for Salman Rushdie and who has condemned homosexuality, and yet has been knighted. Where’s the prejudice and Islamophobia there? To add to this, in an interview with Malik in 2005, Sacranie told him that 95 to 98 per cent of those stopped and searched, under the anti-terrorism law, were Muslim. Malik went and researched that figure and it was actually closer to seven per cent. When you consider that the Muslim population in the UK have a tendency to live in major cities, have more children (i.e. younger members, who are the demographic most likely to be searched), the figure of seven per cent is proportionate to the Muslim population. Considering this interview took place just after the Madrid train bombings and just before the 7/7 Underground attacks, it seems surprising the number of Muslim men stopped and searched was that low. So why was the head of the Muslim Council of Britain exaggerating Islamophobia so adamantly? The constant yell of Islamophobia by some Muslim organisations and liberals is a default position and often at odds with the facts.