violence in Birmingham

The play Behzti has been shut down due to fears of violence from the Sikh community in Birmingham. Here is the choice quote from Sewa Singh Mandha, a local bigwig in the Sikh community:

In a Sikh temple sexual abuse does not take place; kissing and dancing don’t take place; rape doesn’t take place; homosexual activity doesn’t take place; murders do not take place. I am bringing to the attention of the management of the theatre the sensitive nature of the play because by going into the public domain it will cause deep hurt to the Sikh community.

I’m pretty much at a loss for what to say about this, except that I think it’s horrific that people choose to express their displeasure over the content of a piece of theater by destroying “the front entrance and backstage equipment.” It has often been observed that it is nowhere guaranteed that a citizen has a right to not be offended.

Some might compare a play of this nature to one which depicts Jews as salcious usurers. Certainly if I read a one-line description of The Merchant of Venice I might be offended. Some wild-eyed demagogue might try to convince me that it is a bigoted attack on Judaism and should be protested against. But little I have read about this play says that it is a flatly racist screed against Sikhs, and I categorically refuse to accept violence as a means of expressing political displeasure. What is most disturbing to me is that “representatives of the Sikh community” have refused to condemn the violence, and in fact may be seen to be endorsing it. Perhaps if they wish to live somewhere which does not challenge their views or offer a multiplicity of opinions, they should not live in England?

I’m not saying “deport ’em” or any crap like that. But the expectation that a particular religious community can dictate by violence the artistic expression of citizens of the country in which they inhabit is not one which should be fulfilled.


blogging, privacy, and teaching

Eszter has a piece up at CT on complying with FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) with regards to blogging. Since I’m TA-ing the undergrad communications course next semester, students will no doubt find my homepage or google me and find this blog. The question is: to what extent can I blog about the class and my experience within it without violating FERPA? I don’t have the layered privacy features of livejournal, so I can’t hide my comments about quiz design, etc. behind a password-protected wall.

One of my friends told me he blogs anonymously to avoid these issues, but I’m not sure that lets you off the hook, since your identity could always be found out.

I’m left with the prospect of keeping entirely mum about teaching, which is less than pleasing to me. Though I’m sure generalities about the students are fine (“those Berkeley undergrads sure are smart, they catch me screwing up all the time”), complaints are probably bad (“sometimes office hours are really annoying, especially when it’s clear people haven’t been going to lecture”), and naturally warnings are right out (“this exam is going to be a killer”). What is one to do?

Clearly I must err on the side of caution, if anything. I doubt more than a few students will be bored enough to cruise over to this blog. Perhaps I should make use of it to provide course content, like Brad DeLong does. But engineering is not suited to the blogosphere methinks. I guess I’ll just have to play it by ear. A very careful ear.