The Comedy Writing Improvisation and Performance Society (CWIPS) is a sketch comedy troupe at England’s University of Bath. Last month, they were scheduled to perform a show featuring skits based on Bible stories — with references to Richard Dawkins and pop culture mixed in — but they were censored just before the first performance took place.
… during the opening week one of the [Students’ Union] officials quietly attended one of the rehearsals. Just four hours prior to opening night the committee of CWIPS was told that a sketch involving the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed titled ‘Cooking with Christ’ should be cut. “The SU couldn’t give more of an explanation,” recalls one of the members of the committee regarding the lack of justification given for the changes being made the show, especially on such short notice.
It became known that the Chaplaincy of the University had become involved in the decision making process of the SU. “We were told that the chaplaincy had read it and pronounced that sketch too graphic”, the committee member said, “we come under the authority of the SU, so whilst we don’t necessarily agree with what they asked us to cut we have to respect them as they are elected to their position, however the chaplaincy is not part of the SU.”
Somehow, the chaplaincy was able to override the writers’ wishes. Keep in mind the depiction of Muhammad wasn’t something vile. (Think of it more along the lines of what South Park did.)
“We worked very hard in order to make sure our material was enjoyable and pleasant for people of all faiths and backgrounds,” both members of CWIPS highlighted.
There was no conversation. No explanation. Just censorship.
The National Secular Society’s Terry Sanderson considers it part of a disturbing trend:
… Sanderson said: “This is another example of Islamic blasphemy codes being normalised.
“The decision taken assumes that Muslim students would have been offended, and takes that as a sufficient reason to curtail the students’ artistic expression.
“It is also very troubling to see ‘inclusivity’ being used as a spurious reason to shut down parts of the performance. It is telling that only material related to the Islamic Prophet Mohammed was cut. There is an atmosphere of hysteria around satirising or criticising Islam, particularly since the Charlie Hebdo attack. We must start reclaiming ground from those who would silence free expression and satire.“
Somewhere, the cowardly writers protesting the PEN awards gala are smiling.