homegrownNot surprisingly, the creators of the National Youth Theatre’s cancelled production of Homegrown smell a rat.

The official explanation given by the London-based company is that the play was not ready and would have failed the meet the theatre group’s high standards. The fact that neither director Nadia Latif nor playwright Omar El-Khairy were given prior notice of this decision means that this seems more a case of censorship than quality control.

Police requests to see a copy of the script only add credence to their claim that “voices have been silenced”. You only have to look at the online CV of Omar El-Khairy, to see that he is a highly regarded playwright and no apologist for IS.

The subject of this play was always going to be controversial. With a cast of 112 people aged 15-25. the aim was to use a promenade-based production to shed light on the how and why young Muslims are lured into the militant extremist movement Islamic State (IS).

This issue is obviously very topical and extremely sensitive. In February 2015, three teenage schoolgirls travelled from London Gatwick to Syria, apparently intent on marrying into the IS terrorist group. The first performance of Homegrown was due to take place on 12th August at a school in Bethnal Green, London, near the location in East London where these three teenagers studied.

The question of why young Western women would want to be part of a new Islamic state is not an easy question to answer but it seems to me that a serious production exploring some of the complex issues is to be applauded.

Press articles attempting to explain the seemingly inexplicable hint at brainwashing or speak of naive romanticism of those attracted to this radicalized political cause. Ignorance of the issues will only help Islamic terrorist groups in Europe and do nothing to stem this disturbing trend.

It is not the role of artists to propose solutions or give answers to these deep-rooted problems but community-based theatre is one of the vital means of asking the right questions.

Terrorist groups thrive on fear and ignorance and if the state goes down the road of censoring public debate, as seems to be the case with Homegrown, then they are playing into the hands of the extremists.

Related articles:
Cancellation of Homegrown very worrying (Index on Censorship)
Article by Sarah B at Harry’s Place