Robert Fisk ~ theatre notes

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk - one of the few journalists whom I wholeheartedly respect - weighs in on the Rachel Corrie issue in The Independent, with an article called The Erosion of Free Speech:

You've got to fight. It's the only conclusion I can draw as I see the renewed erosion of our freedom to discuss the Middle East. The most recent example - and the most shameful - is the cowardly decision of the New York Theatre Workshop to cancel the Royal Court's splendid production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie.

It's the story - in her own words and emails - of the brave young American woman who travelled to Gaza to protect innocent Palestinians and who stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer in an attempt to prevent the driver from destroying a Palestinian home. The bulldozer drove over her and then reversed and crushed her a second time. "My back is broken," she said before she died.

An American heroine, Rachel earned no brownie points from the Bush administration which bangs on about courage and freedom from oppression every few minutes. Rachel's was the wrong sort of courage and she was defending the freedom of the wrong people. But when I read that James Nicola, the New York Theatre Workshop's "artistic director" - his title really should be in quotation marks - had decided to "postpone" the play "indefinitely" because (reader, hold your breath) "in our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities (sic) in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas. ...we had a very edgy situation", I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.


Fisk contextualises the NYTW decision with some other examples of attempted censorship of debate about Israel and Palestine - including, shamefully, a local Australian campaign against Jewish academic and journalist Anthony Loewenstein's forthcoming book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, due out later this year from Melbourne University Press.

For his journalistic mission of "monitoring the centres of power", as he puts it in his recent book The Great War for Civilisation, Fisk has been often smeared and reviled himself. But he is an intellectual in that rather 19th century and honourable sense: "one who will say the truth, no matter what the price". I'm all for old-fashioned values like that.

Maybe for me he exemplifies qualities which you also see in the great journalism of George Orwell or Ryszard Kapuscinski: an excoriating honesty which does not spare himself; a commitment to compassion and justice; a tough and resilient sense of humour; a resolute fairness towards even those with whom he disagrees; an attention always to the mundane yet significant details that make up our lives; a continual sense of outrage at how casually and brutally these fragile human realities can be utterly smashed by those with power.

It adds up to what Orwell called "decency".

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Latest: Via Playgoer, a letter from British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker defending the play is published in the New York Times plus a letter from the president of the NYTW Board defending the theatre from "shrill" criticism - Isaac Butler at Parabasis has the letter in full and a robust response.

Superfluities picks up Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter's comments that the NYTW's decision is a "a clear case of self-censorship". The full transcript of his Turin conversation with Guardian theatre critic Michael Billington is here, and worth reading for many reasons, but the pertinent quote is: "[My Name is Rachel Corrie] has now been withdrawn by the producing theatre in New York and that is, I think, typical of what is happening more and more in Britain and America: suppression of dissent and the truth."

1 comment:

P'tit Boo said...

Thanks Alison. This was great.