The Play About Islam I Want To See

All around the world, Muslims are responding with a near-universal and righteous anger to the decision of a Danish newspaper to print cartoon images of the Prophet Mohammed.

Or are they?

Certainly, some Muslims are deeply incensed by this act of the treacherous infidels. But what the majority of Muslims think can’t be gauged. After all, there are so few democratic, predominantly Muslim countries, places where accurate polling can be conducted. (Remember: west of Calcutta, the only Muslim democracies are Turkey, Iraq and Afghanistan.) Consider that the polls had Hamas trailing Fatah in the days before the terror group’s landslide victory. But it’s more than this. It’s also because the outward signs of anger manifesting itself—from street demonstrations to terrorism—are almost always acts which have been orchestrated by individuals intent on increasing their own wealth and power.

The idea of Michel Foucault that nothing just “happens,” that powerful, entrenched interests are always effectively guiding political outcomes in the Western World, is one of the most prevalent clichés and one of the biggest lies of our leading universities.

Yet, if this notion is palpably ridiculous in describing free societies in which rich kids take their social cues from poor ones and where affirmative action is prescribed by law, it is a fundamentally accurate description of many un-free societies. There, people rarely, if ever, just decide to take to the streets with placards in their hands and effigies to burn. Invariably someone has told them to do this, assuring them that influential parties will reward and support them for their “spontaneous” activities. (This is also one of the reasons why people in the Islamic world are often so gullible where talk of conspiracies is concerned. If you lived in a society in which people routinely “disappeared” and where even the “anti-government” parties must first be approved by the government, you might also be susceptible to chatter about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or of elaborate, non-existent CIA plots.)

Back when the so-called “Temple Mount” incident was taking place in 2000, Western reporters credulously repeated Palestinian claims that the Arab violence that followed Ariel Sharon’s decision to visit a disputed part of the Wailing Wall arose from sheer emotion. It was only later, when Palestinian leaders themselves admitted that the event was simply a handy excuse and that the terrorist campaigns they set forward were planned far in advance, that this explanation proved “inoperable.”

Similarly, Western reporters parroted claims that there was unprompted rioting in Pakistan in response to the false reports that a Koran had been flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo. It was only afterwards that it became clear that these protests were not spontaneous at all.

In the most recent case, Arab newspapers not only re-printed the disputed images of Mohammed, they also deliberately chose to inflame the situation by including other, more objectionable images of the prophet which had not run, but were thrust forward by radical imams to inflame the situation. In a country where newspapers act at the behest of the ruling faction, it is hard to imagine that this was an independent action. More likely, those editors were doing what the editors of Egypt’s official daily were when they claimed on their page one that U.S. food aid to Afghanistan was deliberately laced with poison to kill Afghani children. They were inciting hatred of the West on orders of government officials who sought a scapegoat for the afflictions undergone by a troubled nation and region.

Those who say that al-Qaeda couldn’t have been working with Saddam Hussein are not only ignoring a mountain of evidence now coming out of Baghdad; they are revealing their fundamental incomprehension of terrorism and the motives of those within the Arab world who promote anti-Western sentiments. Claiming that Saddam and bin Laden couldn’t have worked together is like saying that Mafia clans can’t be meeting up in secret and collaborating on assorted projects, since they’re also regularly trying to kill one another. There is no contradiction.

One must only look at the evidence. Terror factions and their state sponsors have repeatedly met up at international conferences in Tehran, as they once did in Beirut and Baghdad. Likewise, some years ago a group of IRA bomb-makers were discovered with false papers in a remote spot in Colombia, where they were busy training Marxist guerrillas—no matter that one might think that the ideologies of Catholic nationalists and godless Marxists were “incompatible.” This is like Hoover’s FBI, which maintained that there was no Mafia commission even after surveillance revealed that the Cosa Nostra leadership had all turned up—by chance, no doubt—in the small, upstate town of Appalchin, New York.

The comparison between Islamist fanaticism and the Mafia should be understood as a direct one. Terrorism is a criminal enterprise. Those who say that we Americans are the real terrorists are revealing their own gross ignorance of the methods and goals of real terrorists. Testimony shows that al-Qaeda agents spent at least as much time whining and arguing with one another over pay and promotions in their meetings with bin Laden as they did planning operations or discussing ideology.

Islamist terrorists are not freedom fighters, and their methods do not correspond to the actions of armies operating under the rules of war. The IRA and PLO run protection rackets, regularly shaking down small (and sometimes big) business owners they claim to be fighting for. The Taliban and the Colombian Marxists smuggle drugs. First and foremost, Islamist terrorists are racketeers.

This isn’t to say that Islamist terrorists aren’t genuine fanatics. Most undoubtedly are. But that doesn’t mean that sincere beliefs are the driving forces behind it. And if critics of the Christian right think that fundamentalist preachers are all hypocrites, they ought to study the Islamists. This isn’t only because the leaders of the Christian right have no plans to kill anyone, while the Islamists are engaged in campaigns of mass murder from Darfur to Midanao. It’s also that for every Jimmy Swaggart, there are a thousand Mohammed Attas.

Atta, if you don’t recall, was the 9/11 ringleader. He was also, by all accounts, very gay. Likewise, bin Laden decried the lasciviousness of the West—while marrying his 13-year-old cousin. As a theater director with whom I worked on a play I wrote about Islamist terrorism remarked: “This is the elephant in the living room.” Throughout the Arab world, homosexual sex is more normative than it is in Chelsea. With the greater number of women kept in the tightest seclusion, extramarital sex tends to be gay sex. Yet this is also punishable, under Sharia, by death. The way of dealing with rape, of course, is by killing the victim, who, shorn of her virginity, is no longer possessed of any bride price.

My play was inspired by a prior violent situation brought on by a depiction of Mohammed—or, rather, another misunderstanding about his depiction. In 1977, a film called Messenger of God came out which did not show Mohammed. Yet, some Muslim fanatics, who thought it had, and that this was a Jewish plot (what else could it be?), elected to take more than 120 people hostage and shoot a score of them. My play imagined this situation re-set in the present day. I was, needless to say, thrilled by the many rave reviews the play garnered when we staged it this fall, and I’m looking forward to seeing the future productions of it that are planned.

But there’s one play, not yet written, that I’d like to see even more. That play would be set at Camp X-Ray, a prison full of Arab, Islamist men. At X-Ray, porn magazines and other traditional “outlets” for extra male energy have been kept out. The play would be called, The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name: Guantanamo!

It would open with prayer and talk of the need to honor the prophet’s memory. But, at some point, there would only be two men left on the stage. There would then be a hesitant silence, and the exchange of soulful looks. Finally, the two dedicated adherents would speak of what Allah might have wanted for them. Finally—within the limits of the rules laid out by the Actors’ Equity Association—there would be some serious man-on-man action.

I think it’s a safe bet that at least one of the talked-about suicide attempts at Camp X-Ray followed the end of an affair, and the mix of guilt, shame and heartbreak that came with it.

Are the terrorists there victims? Of their government and their society, surely. And the play I’ve just described, much more than Brokeback Mountain, would be taking chances, as it would also go much further in re-assessing (while also honestly representing) those who have become role models for much of the world. That’s the blasphemous depiction I await.


Dick Morris, who knows Bill Clinton as well as anyone except the fromer president’s wife, says that he’s never met anyone who had so much breadth of knowledge and so little depth. Last week, Clinton provided more evidence of this.

In the midst of the controversy over a Danish newspaper’s decision to print depictions of Mohammed, Bill weighed in. This was “appalling” and “totally outrageous,” he said.

“Because people see headlines that they don’t like, [will they] apply that to a whole religion, a whole faith, a whole region and a whole people?”

Really, Clinton explained, what was being done to Muslims was much like what was done to European Jews, the things that led up to the Holocaust and all that. “In Europe, most of the struggles we’ve had in the past 50 years have been to fight prejudices against Jews, to fight against anti-Semitism…So now what are we going to do?…Replace the anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice?”

Clinton made these remarks even as death threats were being made against all Danes (and Swedes and Norwegians) along with the newspaper that printed the cartoons, and the cartoonists were going into hiding.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that Clinton made his comments in Qatar, and that he’d been paid a hefty fee to appear. And, as we all know, Clinton has never been one to tell audiences something other than what they wish to hear.

Yet printing cartoons of Mohammed, plainly, is not the same thing as promoting the mass murder of Muslims. And if satire and provocation are by necessity “appalling” and “outrageous”, then the first amendment is a non-starter.

Moreover, the comparison between anti-Jewish hatred and anti-Moslem feeling is especially odd considering that the Palestinian Authority and the new regime in Iran frankly say that they seek to destroy Israel and leading middle eastern dailies in recent years have criticized Hitler for not, as they put it, “finishing the job.”

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12.16.2010 | Yaya D. Craig

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