To Strike Terror in the Hearts of Men
By Christa Blackmon
Dr Akbar Ahmed
“We Muslims are being killed and tortured and humiliated across the world. We have been robbed of our honor and dignity. Entire generations are growing up traumatized and angry at the injustices and yet we Muslims are being called ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists’,” echoes the voice of a character in Akbar Ahmed’s exploration of the modern Islamic psyche, a play entitled Noor.
The words reverberate against images of the Ten Commandments and Jerusalem in the Washington Hebrew Congregation. The meaning of the play’s latest debut in a second Jewish center, a house of worship no less, is lost on no one. The eyes of the young and old, Jew and Gentile, are fixed upon the stage. They sigh and shake their heads when the topic turns to violence, understanding the power of Ahmed’s observations. But Noor is not about terrorism; it is about terror. It is the feeling absent of all political implications that is driving the actions of many Muslims in the world today.
Following the well-attended play was a panel on the stage in front of the symbolic backdrop of the Washington Hebrew Congregation. On the panel was the playwright, Akbar Ahmed, Imam Magid of the Adams Center and Reverend Carol Flett of the Washington National Cathedral. Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig of the host institution rounded out the panel represented by each of the three great Abrahamic faiths.
American author Frank Herbert once wrote that “fear is the mind-killer, [it] is the little-death that brings total obliteration”. It was part of a litany for his acclaimed series, Dune; a science fiction story with numerous parallels to the history and turmoil that is now present in the Middle East. In the familial drama that unfolds in Noor, this litany could not become any more apparent.
It is the story of three brothers whose beliefs in social order and justice are challenged by the arrest and kidnapping of their younger sister by shady government forces. The most gripping of these characters is the youngest brother, a doctor named Daoud. He represents a faction of Islamic society that is overcome with anger for the injustices they and their community are forced to suffer. His passion for justice becomes his tragic flaw and it drives his quest for vengeance.
Plagued with personal guilt for his inability to heal his beloved mother, he appears to give up healing all together and instead looks for a way to harm. The audience may look at him and call him a “terrorist” but there is no denying that he and his family are also “terrorized”.
Daoud’s tragedy is that of not only the Islamic world, but victims of injustice and oppression everywhere. All victims have the choice of continuing down the path of destruction forced upon them or refusing to walk that path at all. Yet we see that many have had this choice taken away from them, where choosing to end violence makes them passive and even complicit to their own oppression. It is the struggle of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Muslims and non-Muslims in the Sudan, Africans and the Apartheid in South Africa, Sinhalese Buddhist and Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka, and even brother against brother in post-Saddam Iraq. If fear is allowed to dictate the means of fighting back, then fear becomes not only the killer of the mind, but also the killer of the soul.