Politically Correct, from Sea to Shining Sea
When the same kind of politics or world-view invades a small off-Broadway theatre group and a small Oregon student newspaper, I really get worried. Can Big Brother be far behind?
Last week, the student editors of Reed College’s Pamphlette responded to an incident of anti-Semitic graffiti in the library bathroom at a nearby college (Lewis and Clark) by publishing a “fake article” that said Lewis and Clark “students had killed all the Jews in their school.”
“In what is being called a ‘tragic, but all too predictable’ event, the staff of The Leaphlette, a student humor publication at Lewis & Clark College, have been accused of rounding up and gassing all of the Jews on their Portland, OR, campus. The phony article goes on to describe students asking the chemistry department for a chemical to conduct ‘Jewsperiments’ and a ‘towering crematorium’ where the library once stood…a previous Pamphlette article had ‘spoofed Anne Frank’s diary.’”
Clearly, this is what some progressive American students think is funny. To them, taking the Holocaust seriously has become a sanctimonious, even odious tradition, and all such traditions (other than Islamic traditions) must be spoofed, satirized, mocked, taken down. Nothing is sacred, the Old Order must be overthrown—I think that’s what they’re saying.
Well, while they’re at it, I suggest they spoof the riots over the Mohammed cartoons, President Obama’s deep bow to the Saudi King—and why not fictionalize blowing up Mecca? Well, you get my point. These students are not courageous thinkers. (Thank you Dr. Morris and Rikki Platt for calling this to my attention).
Now, for the actors and their audiences.
Last night, I attended a performance of what sounded like a very interesting play: Mahida’s Extra Key To Heaven, written by Russell Davis and directed by Will Pomerantz at the Epic Theatre Ensemble.
The minute I opened the program I knew I was in trouble. Apparently, there are “talkbacks” with the audience after the play; various authors and experts sometimes join these “talkbacks.” My heart sank as I read some of their names: Amani Ahmed, of the Palestine Awareness Committee; Anthony Arnove, Howard Zinn’s co-author and the author of Iraq. The Logic of Withdrawal ; Alyson Cole, author of The Cult of True Victimhood: From the War on Welfare to the War on Terror; Chris Hedges, author of War is a Force Which Gives Us Meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America; and on and on.
Maybe the play was “not the thing” but was meant to function as a teaching moment.
I had, willy-nilly, wandered into a politically correct theatre space. Perhaps the “talkbacks” were meant to indoctrinate, not educate; perhaps the theatre ensemble functioned like a Cult.
First, let me be clear. The acting was magnificent, the play genuinely interesting, the staging quite imaginative. Mahida (brilliantly played by Roxanna Hope whose Iranian accent is pitch-perfect) is a university student from Iran. Her brother Ramin (played by Arian Moayed) expertly, carefully, frightens the audience. Ramin has just come to America to force Mahida to return to Iran.
Mahida insists that she wants to continue her studies, it’s what their father, a modern man, supported—and thus, Ramin throws her out of the car and forces her to walk four miles in the darkness, uncertain if he is following her or not. In any event, Mahida is now trapped on “the island,” unable to get a ferry until the next day.
Thomas, a stranger, (played by James Wallert with intensity and humor) rescues her. He brings a fearful and reluctant Mahida home to his mother Edna (so well played by Michele Pawk). When Ramin comes to claim his sister, he is arrogant, menacing, dangerous, and ultimately violent.
Ramin is an Islamist, (he says he trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan and attended a Qu’ranic school in Lebanon). Ramin is, quite possibly a terrorist, certainly a fundamentalist. Edna is the symbol for The Ugly American, so sure that America is good, right, and represents “the light.” She is meant to sound foolish, hopeless, when she says that America has “evolved” and hopes to bring other countries “along.” Ramin mocks and scorns her, trots out the usual arguments about allegedly American and Western pornography, homosexuality, child sexuality, adultery—as if legalized child rape, pederasty, polygamy, concubinage, sexual slavery, harems, and prostitution did not exist in the Islamic world long before the birth of America. But mainly, Ramin is meant to terrify, terrorize, which he does quite well.
Afterwards, the audience was drilled, interrogated really, on the play. And here is where things got really interesting. What did the audience think? How did they conceive of “borders?” Could they draw what the play meant to them? What do they think really happened between Ramin and Edna? Did he really hurt her? What did they think?
Not a single audience member (at least not in the first half hour after which I left) uttered any of the following words or phrases: “Islam,” “jihad” “terrorism,” “home invasion,” “Iran,” “women’s rights,” “Islamic gender apartheid,” “a long history of Islamic imperialism,” “escalating Islamic crackdown on Christians and Jews,” “Thomas, an American, actually rescues Mahida—he is the hero.” Edna (robustly played as a nosy, fussy, “hovering” kind of mother) was not seen as having held her own against a violent intruder who insulted her religion and her country, etc.
The audience was ashamed of being Americans. They were worried about whether they might be “politically profiling” a terrorist if they “assumed/presumed” (that was the night’s big concept) that Ramin had actually harmed Edna or that he meant to harm Mahida. The audience was relatively shy, awed, pacified, perhaps deeply respectful of Ramin’s “assumed” nobility. Despite his misogyny and terrorist intentions, Ramin had, after all, come to cleanse our dirty, dirty capitalist-colonialist-imperialist land.
No one spoke up for Nedda, the young Iranian girl who was murdered before our eyes by the ruthless Iranian police as she was caught up in the pro-democracy march in Teheran. No one spoke up for Mahida either.
Please note: These “talkbacks” are funded by the New York Council for the Humanities/The National Endowment for the Humanities which also funds the Epic Theatre’s work in public high schools, community settings, and on the web.
Thus, it is not only the professoriate or Acorn who are organizing Americans into false moral equivalences, multi-cultural relativism, self-blame, and other politically correct views. It is also theatre groups who are doing so—and in our high schools. Really, someone ought to look into what our tax-dollar is paying for in terms of theatrical education. No, I am not suggesting that the Epic Theatre Ensemble be shut down or that none of their politically correct experts be allowed to speak. I am talking about the importance of allowing another kind of voice to be heard, about presenting, rather than censoring, another point of view on the themes of their plays.
I challenge the Epic Theatre Ensemble: In the interest of “fairness,” why not invite some of the following experts about Islam, Iran, and women’s rights to your future “talkbacks”: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Seyran Ates, Zeinab al-Suweij, Anat Berko, Nonie Darwish, Manda Zand Ervin, Roya Hakakian, Nancy L. Kobrin, Marnia Lazreg, Azar Nafisi, Maryam Namazie—to name only a few.
Yes, and I can give you a long list of male experts who have important things to say about jihad and terrorism and whom your audiences ought to hear from as well. For example: Steven Emerson, David Ghanim, David Horowitz, Ibn Warraq, Mordechai Kedar, Herbert London, Daniel Pipes, Barry Rubin, Robert Spencer, Kenneth Timmerman, etc.
Some readers have asked why I didn’t jump right in and show that audience “what for.” For years now, I have had to explain to people that I don’t fight at the dinner table but only on the battlefield; don’t become part of the story that I’m covering. “Sounding off” is not my style. I am old-fashioned that way. I take something in, think, then write about it. Had I jumped in, it would have changed the dynamics. The audience’s views were of interest to me. Mine are contained in this blog.
Trust me: I had no idea what I’d be getting myself into when I accepted this invitation to the theatre. The description of the play was an existentially interesting one about lost souls or about people who do not feel they belong where they live. There was no hint of Iran, terrorism, the war of ideas, the mighty clash of civilizations. I was lured in–as were others, I presume.
Might I suggest that the theatre is not the proper forum for a streetcorner shouting match nor should the audience become a key Actor. Finally, using art to bludgeon people into agreeing with a particular political vision or to accomplish a specific political purpose is dangerous. The Nazis and the Communists did just this.