Censored; an insider’s view of an outsider’s sentiments

Forum Theater, as I learned on the day of the performance of Censored, is supposed to deal with topics that aren’t too impossible to solve yet are not too easy to solve either. In other words, FT is meant to open up dialogue and fuel thought on current topics that need support and a sense of movement to push through society, ideals and values that can be pushed through society.

Issues like these, however, often have strong counter arguments with movements of support of their own that can be quite hard to overcome. I’ll get to the point and run quickly through the focus topic of Censored; freedom of expression.

The background of events is the protest of Tamil actors in Tamil Nadu against the SL government and its treatment of Tamils in SL. This protest was embraced by most popular film personalities over there, while two famous actors shunned it saying something along the lines of it not being their problem. Obviously this created a lot of animosity towards those actors and pretty soon, there were calls to boycott these actor’s films from all corners where there were Tamils watching Tamil films. And generally, most Tamils (at least the ones I know) watch a truckload of Tamil films.

The series of events within which the story unfolds is set in modern day Colombo, a bunch of friends go watch a movie, they are cosmopolitan and are obviously cool with each other’s ethnicity and stuff like that. No problems there. To cut it short, one friend in that group gets an SMS from ‘Raj’ in England about how everyone should boycott movies of the two aforementioned TN actors and casually forwards it to another friend who is a Tamil (Kumar), who in turn forwards it to about 10 people he knows and gets himself arrested by a rather frightening looking officer from some government agency the very next day.

Now, the whole point of the play may have been to display that everyone has a right to forward an SMS if they feel like it. Right. I am in perfect agreement with that. That should be the case, and from audience reactions that seemed to be the common sentiments of everybody present. 

But here’s where things get ambiguous, at least to the outsider inside me. All evidence points to them protesting only against the mistreatment of Tamils and not in support of the LTTE per se. That was the statement released by the body organizing the whole thing, and nowhere in any statements released by them did they indicate otherwise. They were merely protesting against the ‘genocide’ of innocent Tamils in the North as a result of the SL governments activities. In short the protest was with regard to collateral damage. Horrendous events that inevitably happen in any war. Just look at Palestine, Lebanon, Africa and a long list that’s just getting longer as the millennium wares on, but I digress.

Getting back to the point. This SMS thing. The outsider inside me wonders if it isn’t a good thing that these kind of activities are clamped down upon. He wonders if this SMS isn’t after all an anti-government SMS, an unpatriotic SMS, because they want to stop the war when we are winning it, and they are Tamils so they must be supporting the Tigers right? He is fed on government propaganda that has a subtle twist to it. Propaganda that states in no uncertain terms that this protest in TN is in direct support of the LTTE, he is a part of the mass majority that believes just that. And he thinks that more questioning should be done to discern exactly why that chap forwarded that SMS, because he thinks that in within the layers of Kumar’s mind, lurks nothing less than a traitor.

Am I making sense here? Or rather, is the outsider inside me making sense here? Freedom of expression is all very well, but what if such expression compromises your country’s war footing? Compromises its security and weakens it against its enemy? Admittedly, this SMS (at least to my mind) has nothing too unpatriotic about it. If people want to protest against the killing of innocents as a result of careless offensive tactics by a party at war I will definitely support their cause, but you have to admit that the lines are blurred, and very much so given the present situation of the country; Censored visited a grey area and came out unscathed. But what if, like Sanjana Hattotuwa said, we take it outside its comfort zone, outside the confines of the British Council, or even do a road show of it, what will the sentiments we receive from our audiences be like?

And what if the lines were blacker? What if that SMS was shown to directly condemn the war (or even went a step further to be shown to proclaim Eelam)? Does freedom of expression count there? In such a situation would we have proudly upheld the rights of free speech or would we have just wished for a white van to make it all go away? Anyone care to share their opinion?

– Halik Azeez

Halik is a Core Group Member of Beyond Borders and blogs anonymously elsewhere. His views are his own.

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Posted on 11/25/2008, in Media, Opinions, Peace-Conflict-Governance, Sri Lanka, Theatre. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Wow!! Halik, so is this what you were thinking while standing there at the back of the hall, watching us on stage?? Such thoughts you have been pondering on 🙂 I agree that freedom of expression is granted towards the citizens of a country in a way that the national security is not compromised.

  2. Halik,

    What if indeed?

    I feel you have actually missed the point of the play in my honest opinion. For me personally it was not as simple about the freedom to send an SMS. It was hitting at something bigger. It was the question of to what extent our SMS’s for example are being monitored so much so that it makes one liable to arrest. The questioning of the mass paranoia that has taken such a big hold of our thinking that it has come to a point where people seriously consider an sms calling for a boycott of films to be an equivalent to a terrorist act. And it was also a question of what effect this has had on us as a generation that is without a doubt a war generation. I had hoped that these were the questions that would have come out of the discussion on Thursday. If these issues had indeed come up then i feel the whole forum theater itself would have been a much more challenging and engaging space.

    While i appreciate your concern for the war effort I do seriously have some questions for you which the play should actually have raised… Where does one draw the line between freedom of expression and national security? Are all things permissible? If they are what does that say about us? If it is not all permissible then how do we respond? The lines are really much blacker than you actually think 🙂

  3. dear all ;

    I witnessed the same experience on the day of the performance of Censored. And to be frank it was in a different way and i have pen my concerns on my blog. http://nethdeco.wordpress.com/how-the-hypocrites-change-the-coast-of-life/

    Form the experience i Have the treatment that this play will receive if it was staged in a more general area. To be frank I believe the play was directed towards something else rather than just freedom of expression and harassment of Tamils. If you want more evidence why not stage this in a public location and check the response,

  4. Robes – surprised?! lol

    Andi

    Well to start off i would like to reiterate that the lines in this context are, as a matter of fact, very blurred. especially when it comes to the question as to when freedom of expression is mitigated when national security comes into play. It could be likened to that story where some chap tries to hit another chap in the nose citing his freedom of movement, and is told that his freedom stops where the other guys nose starts!

    if that SMS is perceived to be LTTE propaganda, as i believe some of its forms were, then it naturally becomes a defense issue don’t you think? for propaganda after all is a powerful weapon of war. and in a war footing, citizens, like it or not, are subject to a level of martial action. That makes simple military sense, regardless of whether you are in support of the war or not. in my sentiments expressed here had nothing to do with a ‘concern for the war effort’ btw, no personal views of mine were aired, I was just detailing the contradictions that arose in my mind upon watching it.

    As for bringing out big brother, or the lack of privacy generated by excessive government monitoring of its citizens’ activities, then its a clear symptom of our existing model of governance. wherever there is hierarchy, wherever there is control, there is monitoring. from a very micro level even, from our parents when we were young to my office and its annoying internet policy!

    That’s the reason why governments exist, to govern. and that is also why counter movements like the anarchists exist and although they may not have the perfect solution, anarchy is a movement to abolish government, to abolish Big Brother. So i guess we need a new form of government (although a new from that wont eventually become Big Brother is hard to conceive) and i agree, the issue that should have been brought out was this, and not that of national security, which may explain the misunderstandings that our friend Nethdeco seems to have formed.

    Nethdeco –

    You lay out some interesting views. i agree that the audience that this play was directed at may not have been fully representative of the countries public, but implying that BB is trying to promote terrorism or that we are all choked up with money ready to leave the country at any point is somewhat absurd. We are an extremely caring bunch of people, if you would allow me to place modesty aside for a minute, and we are extremely concerned about current issues pertaining to a great many areas. And we don’t usually like to play it safe either, you can’t achieve much by playing it safe friend! So keep giving us feedback. Your post is very much appreciated. And please, come watch the next play, whenever and wherever it may be.

  5. Halik ;

    I don’t think that you dudes promote terrorism.But what i suggest is you may be victims of your own idea. I mean focusing on a much bigger issue though a narrow spectrum is not nice. As it can convey a wrong message (that’s what i believed happened here , i remember one British lady narrating herself and asking what is BNS – well she may not ask it as what is FBI ). In the other hand i doubt the idea of GURU. Form what i read form his blog he seems – I say creepy. If you can though a play try to give out the mind set of the country. ( We you have to be down to the earth). Please try to understand what the terrorist wants right now and define the border between yourself that the LTTE propaganda campaign.

    What do you think of the image that you created on the British in the audience.

  6. nethdeco –

    First of all let me apologize for the delay in getting back to you. Looking at a much bigger issue through a narrow spectrum to address it is not very appropriate I agree, but there’s no denying that the play in question did, ultimately, give out an honest picture of what the perceived country situation is. Therefore I would call it an honest representation of attitudes and beliefs held in general society at the moment. And that includes the whole defense secretary ‘fiasco’ you mentioned. There’s no denying that you can get away with anything short of mass murder if you know the right people here. That’s the sad truth. And it really doesn’t matter what impression is created on people if that impression is created through a chance depiction of the truth. And why I say ‘chance’ is that most of the things that came out later on was from the audience itself and not through a pre planned script. That makes it all the more credible don’t you think? Something for you to think about there I’m sure.

  7. First pardon me for the late reply.

    Are u absolutely sure that what you represented was the truth ?

  1. Pingback: 6 Reviews on Censored « Beyond Borders Sri Lanka

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