PEN is concerned about protests over the filming of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane

We recently became worried about the attack on the filming of Monica Ali’s Brick Lane and the attention the media was giving to a small group with a self-appointed leader. If you know anyone in the Brick Lane area who can write to the press and the BBC or be interviewed by journalists on the film’s behalf, please encourage them.

Columnists, please also take note. It would be best if we could show that this is not the Free Speech absolutists vs an embattled minority (which is the way the story now looks, though that doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground); but rather a small group of authoritarians who don’t understand the nature of fiction vs a much larger us that includes many progressive Bangladeshis and others in the Brick Lane area.

English PEN believes that community censorship unopposed by the state is effectively state censorship by proxy, and calls on the Government to offer its strongest support to writers and filmmakers. 

The PEN Amendment to the Racial and Religious Hatred Act embodies a legal commitment to freedom of expression. We ask the Government to honour that commitment, rather than turning a blind eye to the abuse of a growing number of writers in the UK. The roll call of ‘communities’ calling for censorship or inflicting it has grown in these last years: Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Yasmin Whittaker-Khan, Gary Mitchell, Salman Rushdie, Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee.

Without strong political leadership, Britain will become an increasingly hostile climate for writers, with far-reaching and damaging impact on our creative industries, and receding hopes of building a genuinely pluralist society.

Lisa Appignanesi


Click here to read English PEN’s Press Release, 31 July

Click here to read Salil Tripathi’s article for the Wall Street Journal, 11 August – ‘No Offence’

Click here to read Rachel Cooke’s article in The Observer, 6 August – ‘See first, speak later’

Click here to read Richard Lea’s article in The Guardian, 31 July – ‘Novelists hit back at Brick Lane protesters’

Click here to read Maev Kennedy’s article in The Guardian, 28 July – ‘In a sense, if you come under fire from those conservative people, you must be doing something right’

Click here to read Jonathan Heawood’s blog on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, 27 July – ‘The battle for Brick Lane’

Click here to read Paul Lewis’s article in The Guardian, 27 July – ‘Brick Lane protests force film company to beat retreat’

Click here to read Arifa Akbar’s article in The Independent, 22 July – ‘Brick Lane rises up against filming of Ali’s novel’ 

Click here to read an article from Asians in Media, 18 July – ‘Monica Ali’s Brick lane film hit by protests’

Click here to read the article in The Guardian, 18 July – ‘Local protests over Brick Lane film’


Letter to The Editor, The Guardian

Sir, Germaine Greer’s article about the proposed filming of Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane is a strange mixture of ignorance (she actually believes that this is the first novel to portray London’s Bangladeshi community, and doesn’t know that many Brick Lane Asians are in favour of the filming), pro-censorship twaddle (no, Germaine, people do not have the “moral right” to prevent the making of a film simply because they have decided in advance that they will not like it), and ad-feminam sneers about Monica Ali herself. Her support of the attack on this film project is philistine, sanctimonious, and disgraceful, but it is not unexpected. As I well remember, she has done this before.

At the height of the assault against my novel The Satanic Verses, Germaine Greer stated “I refuse to sign petitions for that book of his, which was about his own troubles.” She went on to describe me as “a megalomaniac, an Englishman with dark skin.” Now it’s Monica Ali’s turn to be deracinated by Germaine. “She writes in English and her point of view is, whether she allows herself to impersonate a village Bangladeshi woman or not, British.” There is a kind of double racism in this argument. To suit Germaine Greer, the British-Bangladeshi Ali is denied her heritage and belittled for her Britishness, while her British-Bangladeshi critics are denied that same Britishness, which most of them would certainly insist was theirs by right. “Writers are treacherous,” Greer says, and she should know.

Salman Rushdie


Click here to read Germaine Greer’s article, ‘Reality Bites’, published 24 July

Letter to The Editor, The Guardian

Published 20 July

Your article (18 July) about Brick Lane residents’ response to the filming of Monica Ali’s novel gave the mistaken impression that there was a united Bangladeshi community in the area threatening protest and keen to stop the production of the film of this supposedly ‘insulting’ novel.

Your readers may wish to know that there is no such united and censorious front. There are many differing Asian voices in the area. Few of them are as punitively adamant as the chair of the Brick Lane Traders Association, who according to Asians in Media, leads a small minority of Sylheti traditionalists and has overblown the size of local protest. They quote a local resident, Abdul Goffur who told AIM magazine:

“It’s a minority and they’re trying to make themselves known,” he said. “But I live in Brick Lane and we’ve got a thousand guys who are in support of this. This film will be helpful in opening up our community and helping us progress as a community as a whole….It’s freedom of speech at the end of the day. They’re not going to go anywhere”

Though legitimate protest and expression of views is just fine, English PEN trusts that this time should there be any concerted physical attempt to stop a production – as in the case of the play Behzti in Birmingham – the police, with the full backing of the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport, will stand squarely behind the film, its author, and the right to free imaginative expression.

Yours sincerely,

Lisa Appignanesi

Deputy President, English PEN

Chair, Free Expression is No OFFENCE

Hari Kunzru

Hanif Kureishi

Anthony Lester, QC

Salman Rushdie

Gillian Slovo

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