It was so good and so bad all at once. I can’t even put into words the mixed emotions this show brought on. But I’ll try:
I came into the theatre knowing that it was a play about a Pakistani-American lawyer who struggled with combining the religion he grew up with, Islam, and his American life. The play took place in a lavish New York City apartment. His wife, who happens to be white and not muslim, is an artist. Immediately I thought,
Wow, that’s the life I’m aiming for: living in a high-class New York City apartment, being surrounded by culture and art"
…and it was about a Pakistani person who struggled with religion. Right up my alley.
I grew up in a moderately religious Pakistani family; as I've grown I've found I lean more towards secularism. I don't think any less of religion as a whole, it's just something I actively chose to not be a part of. However, I’m always ready for some insight… maybe this play would change the way I think. Maybe it would introduce me to idea’s I've never considered. I was excited.
As a watched, I began to find that Amir, the Pakistani-American lawyer, really wants to assimilate to American culture. Which is fine. I think any person who is not a straight white Christian male in American society at times will desire to fit in.
BUT - He wants it so badly that it began to anger me; he tries so hard to separate himself from the religion his ethnicity represents that he actively (and unnecessarily) abhorred it. He refuses to speak up for an innocent man who is in jail because the man is an Imam (the muslim equivalent of a priest) and Amir wants no association to the religion. When The Times misquotes Amir as the Imam’s lawyer, Amir throws a fit. This is annoying because although I don’t necessarily partake in the religion, I don’t hate it. Amir suggests that all muslims are "backward people" who think wife-beating is okay. This is untrue. This is all very untrue.
His wife and his colleague’s husband, Isaac, try to bring this to his attention, but he only gets more riled up. He then goes on to suggest that most muslims “felt pride” towards the events in 9/11. This made my mouth fly open. What? No.
No sane human-being sees killing innocent people as prideful. Also the concept of “jihad” is misconstrued throughout the play. Jihad is not always war. It can be an inner-struggle of belief; not every muslim sees it as a duty to raise war.
I was absolutely exasperated at this point. Even I’m mature enough to know that just because I don’t believe in something doesn’t mean I need to childishly and obsessively talk badly about it to prove my separation from it. Amir is a grown man.
At some point, Amir confronts Emily (his wife) about her possibly having an affair. She admits her fault and says she is sorry. Now, of course, when your spouse cheats on you you will be upset. You may yell. You may storm out. Amir beats her.
I remember the shock this moment caused. Part of me knew it was coming, but a larger part of me was hoping it wouldn't. I started to tear up. This was not okay. What was even worse was the underlying suggestion that the reason why he was beating her was because Islam allowed him to.
The scenes change and you can tell it’s a few months later. Emily is no longer with him. She comes knocking with Amir’s nephew, Hussain, who wanted Amir to represent the Imam in the first place.
He came to talk to Amir about helping out his family. For a second I thought,
Great, maybe this kid will be the show’s salvation.”
Maybe this kid will be the example of a religious muslim who is a normal human being, as most are. Maybe this kid will be the first to have a more objective perspective on the whole issue and maybe, just maybe, he is supposed to be the symbol of a new generation.
But, of course that’s not what happened.
Hussein goes off on a rant about ‘our people’ versus ‘their people’. He calls Amir out on his self-loathing, but still misrepresents the Islamic religion. He suggests that anyone who is muslim cannot be a part of American society. The show ends with Amir crying as he realized he left ‘his people’.
Now, the script was complicated, yes, but I hated the message I felt it sent to the audience. It seemed to be suggesting that all muslims are innately terrorists. Although some characters like Isaac or Emily tried to say that those were extremist perspectives, the muslims in the show proved them wrong. It absolutely terrifies me to think of the amount of people who will watch that show, unaware of the larger picture, and let this define Islam and muslim people. I remember hearing one woman saying as she walked out of the theater, "Wow, that really gave me some new insight!" No. Just no.