Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

September 21, 2011

High school pulls 'Kismet' over Muslim theme


CNHI News Service

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — A Tony award musical about a Muslim poet planned for staging this winter by local high school students has been scrapped because of community complaints over its Islamic setting.

It will be replaced by "Oklahoma!", the Rogers and Hammerstein musical about cowboys and romance in the heart of America.

Richland School District officials said Monday they removed "Kismet," a Broadway hit in the 1950s, from the February play calendar to avoid ethnic polemnics so close to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Johnstown is located in western Pennsylvania near Shanksville, where Flight 93 plummented to the ground when passengers and crew overpowered the hijackers who intended to fly the plane into the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Thirty-three passengers and seven crew members died in the crash.

"Flight 93 flew over our heads," said Superintendent Thomas Fleming Jr. "So it's understandable that people might be a little more sensitive perhaps to the (play's) content. It's on people's minds right now."

Fleming said several residents complained that "Kismet" featured Muslim characters and was set in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. He said it was not worth the risk to proceed with the play and ensnare the students in community criticism.

"Kismet," which means the will of Allah in Arabic, was performed by the high school theater group in 1983 without objection. The play was written by British playwright Edward Knoblock in 1911, and tells the story of a scheming street poet and his beautiful daughter who falls in love.

Reaction to the decision to pull the play was instant on the website of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat. Most of the comments disagreed with school officials.

"Good job, folks," wrote an anonymous poster. "Teach your kids fear and intolerance. You've just handed another victory to the cowards that attacked us. Let's make sure that the rest of the world thinks that we're afraid of the largest religion in the world because of a handful of extremists."

Wrote another anaymous poster: "You know what's detrimental to our kids? Avoiding education about other cultures."

But a poster who identified herself as Joanne Calafiore Doughty, a 1970s graduate of Richland High School who now lives in South Carolina, agreed with the decision.

"I must admit I do not know much about 'Kismet' but I do know that many people lost loved ones due to Muslim terrorists," she wrote. "Performing that play would have been a slap in the face to all those families and the first responders who put their own lives on the line during the 9/11 attacks. This generation has learned about diversity and the dangers that often appear behind the mask of religion. This generation has to learn about what is morally correct, not just what is politically correct."

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Details for this story were provided by the Johnstown, Pa., Tribune-Democrat.