The Seymour recently completed a season of a play with the intriguing title Osama bin Laden. The banner read: ‘My name is Osama bin Laden and, ladies and gentlemen, I’m going to show you how to change the world.’ The play was a roaring success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
So we donned our Kevlar flack jackets and helmets and headed with great trepidation to darkest Newtown.
The one-man show consisted of a genial young man who was to assume the role of Osama. He welcomed the arriving audience with offers of tea and biscuits creating immediate rapport with the audience. It took a little adjusting to imagine that this short, stocky, energetic and likeable English youth was to portray the lanky, skinny, sullen Saudi but that was the smallest adjustment one had to make.
Before the show began the performer invited the audience to an interactive discussion; specifically, what they thought of their government. Well, that let the cat out of the bag. The response was uniformly critical: government is only concerned about winning votes; politicians don’t care about people, they accept bribes, etc. At one stage the audience were becoming so excited I thought they’d get up and march towards Parliament House and overthrow the government. Until one idiot raised his hand and blurted: ‘Of the 200 governments on this planet I think we are bloody lucky to have ours.’
That idiot was me and I was grateful for my foresight in wearing the Kevlar jacket. Maybe I was wrong to raise my hand but I would have thought a case could be made that ScoMo was a nicer bloke that Vlad Putin, Erdogan, the Ayatollahs or Maduro.
The show opened with our Osama presenting a flipchart on which appeared one word, ‘Motivation’. ‘Now that is interesting,’ thought I. Add ‘Motivation’ to ‘Osama bin Laden’ and… where is this leading us? At this point the performer introduces the young bin Laden. Tall, handsome he needs a woman in his life. The performer drags out a young woman from the audience and they embrace, to the delight of the audience.
There they are, handsome young couple, summer, they are in love. I think of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John singing ‘You’re the one that I want, ooh, ooh, ooh’. So-o sweet. Forget that she is wife number 5 in his harem; let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story. The audience laps it up.
Osama then is seen holding his little son Abdullah. Abdullah is such a suitable name. It means Slave of God. His next son is Flagellator of God, then Torturer of God, Beheader of God, etc.
The performer, teary-eyed, describes the affection with which Obama holds his little Slave of God in his hands, just like any dad from middle America or Australia holding their little ones in their hands hoping they’ll grow up to become mass-murderers in the name of Allah. Then, as Allah would have it, Osama meets Abdullah Azam, a Palestinian proponent of jihad who gives Osama the motivation he has always craved: uniting Muslims and killing kaffirs.
The performer flips the chart and reveals the next statement: ‘Making your Life Meaningful’. Well we know how Osama made his life meaningful – by massacring people in office buildings, trains, buses, slaughtering civilians at random. So we too could live meaningful lives. But no, our performer tells us: Osama was not a killer. He was a freedom fighter, a kind of Muslim Superman or Batman.
Assam and Osama proceed to rebuild the Islamic world; Osama and his Al-Qaeda mates fight the Russians and kick them out of Afghanistan. He then fights the American aggressors who were only in it for the money although there wasn’t much of it in Afghanistan.
What Obama seeks in Afghanistan is ‘freedom’ for Afghans. The playwright neglects to mention that by Afghans we obviously mean the men. Women aren’t people; they are objects at the service of men. Freedom for a doddering Afghan male is the freedom to choose a nubile adolescent, to do with her as he pleases. Freedom is freeing girls from education. Freedom for women is the freedom not to leave the home without a male chaperone, freedom to serve her master, her father or her brothers.
Having freed Afghanistan, Osama turns to his next target: rich Saudis, living it up while others are poor. He becomes a Muslim Robin Hood. Well there’s a bit of poetic licence here. Osama had no more interest in the poor Saudis than he did for poor Christians, Buddhists or Hindus. What upsets him is that the Saudi royal family are lavishing its wealth on babes, baubles and Bentleys rather than explosives, missiles and nuclear weapons.
So poor Osama gets himself turfed out of Saudi Arabia but his dream of recreating a universal caliphate cannot be extinguished. The performer makes no mention of momentous events in Islamic history to which Osama aspired: the history of butchery and brutality, or that kaffirs were offered a binary choice: convert or be beheaded. In the following centuries Islam spread through Arabia, through Christian North Africa, into Spain and headed for France. In every village, town and city conquered by the rampaging Muslim hordes, mountains of heads of victims were assembled to demonstrate the wisdom of Islam. Women were raped, forced into concubinage or murdered. Somehow there was no mention in the performance of this history.
After the play the performer and his writing colleague faced questions from the audience. Asked what motivated the performer to write the play, he replied that the concept occurred to him reading the newspaper on the train about Osama on the day his death was announced.
He was struck for the first time by Osama’s suffering. Here was the lanky stooped sick man who had to live in caves, walk with the aid of a cane, in freezing temperatures and burning heat.
Then, to his shock, he notices sitting opposite him a little boy stabbing photos of Bin Laden in the newspaper. How cruel to viciously stick a pencil into a photograph of a sickly old man; and worse, the parents approved the child’s actions.
The performer was incensed. Bin Laden would never have done that. He would have stuck knives into the throats, hearts and bellies of innocent victims – but never a photograph. While the audience asks further fawning questions we decide to sneak out into the fresh air. All this can be innocent fun, but the play could just as easily inspire an impressionable youth to be motivated to follow in Osama’s footsteps, to become a devout Muslim, to kill in the name of Allah and ro seek a ‘meaningful’ afterlife.
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