By Blake Neff
A New York City arts center has canceled a planned event intended to protest censorship after one of the scheduled plays, “‘Mohammed’ Gets A Boner,” was deemed too offensive to Muslims.
“Playwrights for a Cause” was scheduled to be held at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture on June 14, and was supposed to feature four short plays about censorship in art. In addition, revenue from the event was supposed to benefit the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Instead, the entire event has been canceled, thanks to one of the four entries. “‘Mohammed’ Gets A Boner” is a one-man performance by screenwriter Neil LaBute written specifically for the event. Its description makes it clear the play is intended to be somewhat shocking:
”The prophet “Mohammed” stands on a barren stage, recalling the first time he made love to a white woman. Is this reality or a theatrical convention? Where do the lines between ‘satire’ and ‘censorship’ intersect or is nothing sacred when it comes to the theater?”
Not only is the play being canceled, but some media entities have been afraid to even name the play. The New York Times, which first reported the story, calls it “a new play … with a title making reference to ‘Mohammed.’”
According to the Sheen Center’s director, William Spencer Reilly, the cancellation was made because the mockery of any other faith clashed with the Sheen Center’s mission (the center itself has a Catholic identity).
“When an artistic project maligns any faith group, that project clearly falls outside of our mission to highlight the good, the true, and the beautiful as they have been expressed throughout the ages,” Reilly told the Times. “[The Center] will not be a forum that mocks or satirizes another faith group.”
Reilly also blamed the sudden cancellation on the fact that, while the performance was commissioned in February, he only saw the play’s title recently.
LaBute has said that the Sheen Center was entirely within its rights to cancel the performance, but in a statement he also pointed out the irony of censoring an event intended to be about censorship.
“This event was meant to shine another light on censorship and it was unexpected to have the plug pulled, quite literally, by an organization that touts the phrase ‘for thought and culture’ on their very Web site,” LaBute said. “Both in life and in the arts, this is not a time to hide or be afraid; recent events have begged for artists and citizens to stand and be counted.”
Since the massacre perpetrated at the offices of the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo, controversy has repeatedly erupted between those hoping to defend free expression and those concerned about causing offense to Muslims. In Texas, two Muslims hoping to attack a Muhammad cartoon show were killed by security, and in Northern Ireland an academic conference about the Charlie Hebdo attack was canceled following concerns the event posed a security risk. (RELATED: Uni Caves To Jihadis, Cancels Charlie Hebdo Conference)