The West’s confrontation with Islam is the great drama of our time. Yet both the theater world and the movie industry – sometimes out of outright fear, sometimes out of a misguided notion of sensitivity to Islam, and sometimes out of a toxic combination thereof – have conspicuously avoided making drama out of that drama.
There have been very few exceptions to this rule. Almost all have been craven, mendacious exercises in multicultural cringing and Western self-hatred. For anyone who recognizes how crucial a role compelling theater or film can play in helping us to understand our own era, in moving us with stories that communicate that era’s most urgent truths, and in giving us the strength to tackle its most formidable challenges, this well-nigh universal silence amounts to a shameful abdication of responsibility.
The Party Line, a two-act play by Sheryl Longin and Roger L. Simon that has just been published by Criterion Books but that has not yet been produced, is a brave and admirable effort to fill this disgraceful void. For that alone, it is deserving of great commendation.
But it is far more than that.
Before I say what The Party Line (available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble) is, however, let me first say what it is not. It is not a conventional narrative. Its settings range from New York to Amsterdam to Moscow to Florida; its time frame shifts constantly, mostly between the 1930s and 1990s (although one scene takes place as early as 1920 and another as late as 2003); and it contains a mix of fictional characters and real historical figures.
It is, in short, a highly ambitious concoction. And – unlike the future that Lincoln Steffens thought he had experienced on his 1919 visit to the Soviet Union – it works. It is, in fact, a wonderfully conceived and strangely moving creation that I am extremely eager to see performed on a stage.
At the play’s center are two colorful, remarkable, larger-than-life men who actually existed. One of them is Walter Duranty (1884-1957), the British-born journalist who served as the New York Times‘s Moscow correspondent from 1922 to 1936. In his heyday a much-heralded figure (he won the Times a Pulitzer), Duranty lived to see his star fall when it became increasingly clear that during his tenure in Moscow he’d been nothing but a lying Kremlin mouthpiece – one who was so utterly lacking in conscience that he strove to cover up the Ukrainian famine and to smear his worthier colleagues who strove to get out the truth. Like Quisling’s name, Duranty’s has entered the lexicon, becoming a byword for fraudulent journalism about totalitarian governments. Among current practitioners of his profession, Duranty is the very symbol of the kind of corruption they should consider themselves honor-bound to avoid.
The other real-life member of the play’s dramatis personae is Pim Fortuyn (1948-2002), the liberal Dutch sociologist-turned-politician who, over a brief period in the 1990s, rose to prominence and popularity in his country as an outspoken critic of its Islamization and who, at the time of his assassination by a radical environmentalist, was in all probability on the verge of becoming prime minister. Like Duranty, Fortuyn has become a symbol – in his case, of valor and nobility of spirit, and, alas, of what can seem, in today’s Europe, like a lost cause, namely the hope of rescuing European liberty from the onslaught of Islam.