DARA: Art for Advocacy?
READ MORE about DARA, adapted from the play by Shahid Nadeem, Ajoka Theatre, Lahore, Pakistan
Art for Advocacy?
Why every child in Britain should see the National’s latest play
London play Dara dramatises historic Muslim struggle against fundamentalism
By Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation
In the wake of the Sydney, Paris and Copenhagen terror attacks – and the repeated foiling of Islamist terror plots in the UK – the government is proposing a draconian clamp-down on hate speech and non-violent extremism. It argues that exposure to such views can be a gateway to Islamist terrorism.
Apart from being an inadvertent menace to legitimate freedom of expression, repressing opinions is unlikely to be effective. Already existing anti-extremist sanctions have failed to undermine the Islamist ideology that is recruiting young people to the jihadist cause. What makes ministers think that their new proposals will fare any better?
The truth is that Islamist terrorism will only be defeated when we defeat the ideas that nurture it. That’s why an ideological offensive against Islamism is crucial. We need to rebut fundamentalist ideas with enlightenment ones.
Politically countering the Islamist agenda is important but sometimes an even more effective method is via art and culture. Being more subtle – and entertaining – it can often reach people that politics and debate cannot.
Based on the true story of the two sons of the Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan, the production is history with a searing contemporary relevance.
Prince Dara is the heir to the empire. He’s a pluralistic, humanitarian Sufi Muslim who loves music and poetry. Open-minded, he respects other faiths. His younger brother, Prince Aurangzeb, is a totalitarian warlord and fundamentalist with an ideology akin to Salafist extremism. He uses war and religion to usurp the more liberal and popular Dara in a power grab for control of the lands we now call India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Dara and his father are imprisoned by the power-hungry Aurangzeb. To justify his coup and destroy public support for Dara, Aurangzeb colludes with corrupt clerics and judges to have Dara charged with apostasy under Sharia law; culminating with his trial and execution.
Specifics aside, this play is a snapshot of the age-old battle for the heart and soul of Islam; between competing interpretations and understandings of the faith. It is a story that speaks to us in a world where modern-day Aurangzeb’s are raining down murder and mayhem in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and elsewhere.
Bought to London by the British-Pakistani cultural and human rights association,The Samosa, and its director Anwar Akhtar, Dara is performed by the courageous Lahore-based theatre company, Ajoka, which has suffered victimisation by the Pakistani Establishment for its liberal, dissenting productions.
When it comes to countering extreme Islamism, Dara has more potential than the government’s often half-baked and repressive proposals to curb free speech.
To defeat Islamist propaganda and win the battle of ideas, education and awareness are the key. To this end, Dara should be on the national curriculum alongside Shakespeare. Every school kid in Britain should see it. But will the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, fund its filming and ensure that a DVD goes to all schools?
Dara is a hugely important, relevant production with regard to contemporary human rights and the battle against Islamist extremism. Why aren’t those who berate fundamentalism doing more to promote and sustain it to a wider audience?