German audience applauds ‘Satanic Verses’ play premiere

March 31st, 2008 - 4:45 am ICT by admin  

Potsdam (Germany), March 31 (DPA) The first stage adaptation of “The Satanic Verses”, the controversial novel by Indian-born author Salman Rushdie, won applause from a German audience at its premiere Sunday under heavy police guard near Berlin. The adaptation in German digested Rushdie’s 700-page, 1988 book to a four-hour matinee at the Hans Otto Theatre, known by the acronym HOT, in the city of Potsdam. The characters include a prophet named Mahound, a thinly disguised reference to Mohammed.

Some Muslims have been upset by the production, suggesting that “insulting Islam” was a gimmick to attract audiences.

Although there were no threats, police mounted guards at the HOT as a precaution. There were no incidents.

Rushdie was sent a ticket but he did not attend.

The script was written by two Germans, the producer Uwe Eric Laufenberg and Marcus Mislin. The two main characters, expatriate Indians living in Britain who die in a plane crash, were played by Germans.

The applause at the close was respectful, with a few in the audience calling bravo to Tobias Rott, as Saladin and the devil, and Robert Gallinowski, as Gibril, the angel and Mahound.

The book’s and play’s title refers to Mahound excising passages from scripture after realizing they were infernally inspired and saying: “The verses were not divine, they were satanic.”

Germany’s various Muslim groups have differed in their reactions, with one group, the Central Council of Muslims, calling for calm.

Though Rushdie’s content was “insulting” to Islam, “despite the common misconception, the majority of the world’s Muslims have rejected censorship,” Aiman Mazyek, general secretary of the multi-ethnic council, said Friday.

“I say we should pursue a critical and constructive dialogue,” he said. “One should explain that freedom of opinion and the arts is a prime value, but our values do not extend to insulting what is sacred to a religion.”

Ali Kizilkaya, chairman of the Islamic Council of Germany, a mainly Turkish group, said that the stage show was one of a series of increasingly frequent provocations that went beyond the bounds of ordinary debate.

“Evidently it is becoming the fashion to insult Islam,” he said in remarks quoted Friday by the newspaper Schweriner Volkszeitung. Freedom of the arts was “an important value” but the rule of respect also applied.

Germans have been fascinated by the scandal over the book and threats to assassinate the author in revenge for passages portraying the Prophet Mohammed.

Rushdie has frequently visited Germany and lectured at writers’ conferences. Under a Shia Iranian fatwa, or edict issued by Iran’s late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, it was declared right to murder him.

As a result, for many years he had police bodyguards.

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