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The Politics of Presenting Arabs on American Stages in a Time of War

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But, it’s also true that culture is not created in a vacuum.

I’m a Palestinian-American playwright who creates images of Arabs on American stages in a time of war. One way you can make people less complacent about a war is by making them feel conflicted and confused about the reasons why you are fighting that war.

I was in New York on 9/11. It was a place of mourning, confusion, horror, sadness. But, the tragedy of 9/11 attack wasn’t deemed enough to justify an immediate massive military response. Not right away and not by enough of the right people. The image of the “good” Arab or Muslim – victims who needed saving from their leadership – began to be part of the governmental discourse as well. Most notably, this took the form of Laura Bush taking the extraordinary step of being the first First Lady to take over a President’s weekly radio address in order to talk about the Taliban’s brutal policies towards women in 2001. Instead of writing and art and theatre created in opposition to such pro-war propaganda, we got a spate of plays (the vast majority of images of Arabs in American theatre) presenting narratives that highlighted the human rights abuses under Saddam and the Taliban. These plays easily could have been set in Saudi Arabia, an ally of America, an act that would have punctured through arguments like those of Laura Bush and reveal the hypocrisy inherent in them. But, they were not. These stories of victims that clearly needed saving were set in countries we happened to be invading.

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