Soiree for the Fifth of June

By Sa`dallāh Wannūs

Translated by Roger Allen

Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall 2014)

In spite of the period of almost half a century that separates us from the June War of 1967 – an event commonly referred to in Arabic as “al-naksah” (the setback, débacle), the event itself and its many consequences continue to resonate throughout the Arabic-speaking world and far beyond. It is that particular event that lends itself to the title of the play, Haflat samar min ajl khamsat Huzayran (Soirée for the Fifth of June), by the late Syrian playwright and theoretician of drama, Sa`dallah Wannus (1941-97), that is presented in this English translation.

The central core of Wannus’s play deals with the conflict itself and its immediate aftermath, something that, needless to say, serves to greatly enhance its impact. For, not only is it set during the war, but the device of presenting a play that is primarily focused on putting on another play allows Wannus to mount a direct challenge to official versions of the events themselves, and that in a context where the peoples of the Arab world were in the process of discovering that they had been systematically lied to by their various regimes for most of the duration of the conflict. This war was no episode of glorious heroism, they learned, as their media had loudly proclaimed for several days, but instead an abject defeat from almost the very outset. In order to convey such a highly controversial message to his audience, Wannus makes use of this piece of theater to further one of his continuing goals in play-composition, namely an attempt to radically break down the divide between stage and audience–a process that in his theoretical writings he terms “masrah al-tasyis” (theater of politicization).[1]

The play was initially performed in Beirut; I have not been able to discover the exact date, but its appearance in textual form in the 1968 volume of the literary journal, Mawāqif, edited by the renowned Syro-Lebanese poet, Adūnīs, suggests that it cannot have been later than late 1967 or early 1968. This translation of the play presents a combination of two separate versions of the text. The first is the Mawāqif version.[2] Given the time-frames involved, one must assume that it represents as closely as possible the script used for the initial performance, not least because it contains a fair amount of local and contemporary reference that was omitted or altered in the later version to be discussed below. Following that initial performance, the play was immediately banned; when we bear in mind the combustible brew of shock, despair, and fury that was being felt in many, if not most, Arab societies in the wake of the June 1967 defeat, such a reaction is perhaps hardly surprising. To that factor however we can add the very deliberate way in which Wannus’s stage directions require the presence of actors in the audience who are to represent invited senior members of the security services. The way in which they are (re)presented and indeed the manner in which they are shown to react to the events of the play itself at its conclusion make it likely that the actual persons involved in Lebanese security matters were anxious to suppress as firmly and rapidly as possible such a totally subversive commentary on their own conduct and indeed on the official versions of what had happened during the June War itself.

If the initial reaction to the 1967 war was, as we have suggested, one of combined despair and fury, then the aftermath also provoked a widespread and profound consideration, or indeed reconsideration, of the very bases of post-independence Arab society and of Arab values in general. Many myths had just been completed shattered; in the words of the Egyptian theater critic, Faruq `Abd al-Qadir, it was “a defeat of regimes, foundations, structures, ideas, and leaders.”[3] It would appear however that, by 1972, that process of self-reflection had led a number of people to prefer and espouse a more direct confrontation with the realities and implications of defeat, in that, among other developments, Wannus’s play was put on in Damascus in that year and, according to the Syrian critic, Badr al-din al-`Urudki, was seen by some 25,000 people over the course of its run. It is not clear whether the script for these performances was the same as that for the initial one, but, whatever the case may be, the second version of the play on which this translation is based, printed in Wannus’s complete works (published shortly before his early death from cancer), shows some significant changes – references to which are included in the notes to the translation.[4]

Wannus was to express frequent frustration at his audiences, because, even though his studies of the history of the dramatic medium in the pre-modern eras of Arab-world history, and indeed of its earliest modern beginnings in the 19th century, had convinced him that the audiences on such earlier occasions would traditionally be vociferous participants in the performance, the audiences at his own plays had become accustomed to Western-acquired habits of a more tacit involvement.[5] In the case of this particular play, he solves the problem by placing multiple actors in the audience. Not only are members of the government placed in the front row, but the author of the play that is supposed to be performed is also seated in the audience and interacts with the “Producer” on stage as the entire production begins to fall apart. Just a couple of years earlier, the Austrian playwright, Peter Handke (b. 1942), had written a play in German entitled Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending or Insulting the Audience, 1966) which at the time was termed an “anti-play,” but in Wannus’s contribution he seems to take the process yet further: the audience is made to watch as, at the play’s conclusion, the theater is closed by actors dressed as soldiers and the “participants” on stage who have been involved in this subversive activity are all arrested. Theater in this case not only offers a telling commentary on the events of the recent past, but also comes disarmingly close to the actual situation in the public domains of much of the Arabic-speaking world, that very space that in 2014 is being contested in many of its regions following the events of the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011.

Sa`dallah Wannus is one of the most significant figures in the history of modern Arabic drama: actor, playwright, theoretician of drama, producer, and major cultural figure in the cultural sector of his homeland, Syria. Born in the Alawite community in Syria, he received his basic education there before earning a journalism degree in Cairo during the early 1960s, a period in which Egyptian theater was in one of its most productive periods. In the same period he composed several one-act plays and, following his return to Syria, worked in the cultural sector. Later that decade, he went to Paris to study the theory and practice of drama, and there he encountered the experimental works of writers such as Ionesco, Anouilh, and–it almost goes without saying–Brecht and Piscator. Following his return to Syria, he wrote a great deal about the theory of drama, advocating “politicization theater” as one response to the dire events of 1967. Haflat samar, the play translated here (1968), was followed by a number of highly experimental works, including Mughamarat ra’s al-mamluk Jabir (The Adventure of Mamluk Jabir’s Head, 1970), Sahrah ma`a Abi Khalil al-Qabbani (An Evening with Abu Khalil al-Qabbani, 1972),[6] and Al-Malik huwa al-malik (The King’s the King, 1977; English translation by Ghassan Maleh in Modern Arabic Drama: an anthology ed. Salma Jayyusi and Roger Allen, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 77-120). Following the shocking Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982, Wannus wrote no plays for almost a decade, but in the 1990s he returned to the task with renewed vigor, with a series of continuingly controversial works, including al-Ightisab (The Rape, 1990), Munamnamat tarikhiyyah (Historical Miniatures, 1994), and Tuqus al-isharat wa-al-tahawwulat, (Rituals of Signs and Transformations, 1994). He died of cancer on May 15th 1997.

 Roger Allen retired from his position as Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania in 2011, but continues to teach there part-time. Among his published works are: A Period of Time (1st [microfiche] edition, 1974; 2nd edition 1992); The Arabic Novel: an historical and critical introduction (1st edition 1982, Arabic edition, 1986; 2nd edition 1995, 2nd Arabic edition 1998); and The Arabic Literary Heritage, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998; abridged paperback edition: Introduction to Arabic Literature, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000; Arabic translation: Muqaddima li-al-adab al-`Arabi, Cairo: Al-Maglis al-A`la li-al-thaqafah, 2003). He has also served as the editor of several journals, and has translated a large number of works of modern Arabic fiction into English.


Soiree for the Fifth of June

A play involving the public, history, [officials][8] and professional actors.

NOTE:[9]

The day after the June War [1967], the majority of ministers and heads of cultural foundations–especially the official ones–were, with their habitual enthusiasm, hell-bent on confirming the existence of their foundations. When state events are involved, official foundations have to be there. As far as they were concerned, the June War was simply one of those state events, no more.

An official theater invites the public to attend a play entitled “Clarion of Souls” by the playwright, `Abd al-ghanī al-Shā`ir [the poet]. It is opening night, the night when the events of our performance takes place. Traditional invitations have been sent to officials and political figures; not only them, but to refugees and people in the “third level” category as well. These latter invitations actually misrepresent the current situation and its essential details.

As is usually the case in our country, in this play-production the producer is also the director. I can add at this point that he is also an actor. He is in charge, and his involvement here carries with it implications beyond this particular theater stage and the building itself.

This play does not involve “characters,” in the accepted sense of the word. All the personalities involved conform with this principle: the producer, the writer, `Abd al-rahmān, Abū al-faraj, and `Izzat. All of them, like everyone else, are merely voices, participants in a specific historical situation. The individuals here have no particular dimensions to them. Their features are only depicted in accordance with the lines and details that they furnish to the general historical picture. That is what simultaneously constitutes both the shape and content of the play.

************************************************

The theater is illuminated. The stage itself is also lit, and there is no curtain.  Right at the front is a blackboard on which is written: “At precisely 8.45 on the 5th of June 1967, Israel, the most dangerous and problematic of imperialist manifestations in the world, launched a lightning attack on the Arab nations and defeated their armed forces. It occupied new segments of their territories. While this attack may have been a clear and savage indication of the imminent danger of imperialism, it also provided the clearest possible demonstration of our urgent need to take a closer look at our own selves and in our own mirrors. Who are we, we might ask ourselves, and why?

The performance was supposed to start at 8.30 precisely, but the exact timing can be adjusted in accordance with the program preceding it. As a result, time has passed, and no actors have yet appeared on the stage. Indeed there has been no indication of when things might begin.

The audience starts getting restless and complaining; a whispered buzz grows ever louder in all parts of the theater.  From the back rows a whistle is heard. As heads turn, there’s laughter. Another whistle, and the buzz gets louder. Heads comes close and then move apart again as patience wears thin. A variety of comments are heard:

“What’s this? We’re not your parents’ slaves.”

“What a farce. Is this a hotel or a theater?”

Another whistle, and yet another, even louder.

“We didn’t come here to fall asleep!”

Whistles from every part of the theater. The spectators are fidgeting in their seats, and there’s a general hubbub. Meanwhile, the stage remains fully lit but completely empty, looking for all the world like a broad, careless eye. That may help explain why the spectators are getting more and more angry:

“What an artistic fiasco!”

“Just like a printing error: an easy excuse for all sorts of idiocies.”

[Another whistle.]

“Maybe there’s a problem backstage.”

“Or the actors have lost their scripts.”

[Laughter…]

“Whatever the case, it’s an insult to the audience…”

“It’s an imperialist plot.”

[More laughter…]

“But it’s not right.”

“Absolutely, it’s not right.”

“They’re making fun of us!”

“It’s almost nine o’clock!”

[Now the voices get confused. Signs of irritation and anger grow and grow. The atmosphere becomes even more tense when the producer comes on to the stage, trying his best to walk confidently. He is fat and self-assured. His bronzed, healthy-looking face has a slight tinge of banality to it which is difficult to pin down exactly. He makes his way across the stage till he is standing in front of the audience. For a moment he scans the audience, hardly able to conceal his panic. The crowd noise gradually diminishes and dies away.  Once there is complete silence, he starts talking.]

PRODUCER (in a quavering voice): This is tough, really tough. But I beg you all not to think badly of us. The whole thing can be termed a betrayal, and we’re already its victims even before all of you.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): So what’s happened?

What a story!

So we’re never going to get started!

[The words fuse into each other. The din in the hall gradually rises again.]

PRODUCER (in a loud voice): Quiet! Please be quiet. I’ll give you all the details, the whole truth. I imagined anything else as possibly happening tonight, but not what has actually transpired. As artists, we’re always prepared for all sorts of surprises, but this one goes way beyond anyone’s expectations. Let’s say that we’ve all suddenly been robbed of our roles; we’ve fallen into a nasty trap. But no, I’m not going to get ahead of things. I’m going to rely on your patience and show you the kind of dilemma we’re in, and in full detail. Today you’ve no idea how far we’re going to have to rely on your understanding in order to get out of this fix we’re in.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): Scrap the introduction and get on with it!

Let’s get to the point.

What’s been happening?

Isn’t there going to be a play?

[Once again, the words fuse into each other, and the general din in the hall rises.]

PRODUCER: Gentlemen, I beg you to help me perform this very difficult task. I’ve hesitated for a long time before agreeing to undertake it. But what’s to be done?  Officials have actually received their invitations, and most of the seats in the theater have been reserved…

SPECTATORS (from the hall): Oh no! So…

PRODUCER: Quiet, please, quiet! (He wipes his forehead angrily.) What’s more, you have an absolute right to learn the truth in full. Otherwise how can you have any confidence in us? (A pause as he wipes his forehead again.) You’re all undoubtedly aware of the difficult historical moment we’re passing through at this point in time. We’ve lost our foothold,[and our lives have almost been turned upside down].[10] We’ve all had to taste the bitter food of a struggle that I’m going to term ‘dramatic.’ Needless to say, I don’t want to pick the scab off our wound. Our purpose tonight was more noble and lofty than simply reviving sorrowful memories. I’m not going to dissimulate: memory is not a feature of theater; a specialty of historians perhaps. Our only specialty is art, something that reveals itself on every possible occasion, particularly on every possible occasion. Since the events began, I’ve been thinking to myself that our play cannot remain in the shadows. Haven’t we been in evidence on all possible occasions? Haven’t we celebrated every process of change?! For that very reason, it’s most appropriate for our demonstration this time to be starker and more violent. These events have been far from normal, not simple at all. (A moment’s pause.) At first I had a dream, when the sound of bombs falling was still flashing across our vision and minds, a dream of presenting a soirée of poetry, one in which the very best poems from our era or one close to it would be presented in an effective dramatic mode. (He starts to act it out.) The lights would be low, and gun-shots would be heard. (The lights go down, and gun-shots are heard.) The actor comes toward the front of the stage like some kind of legend enveloped in a halo of light (He is picked up in a beam of colored lights.) He will stand right here, in front of you all, staring directly into your faces. Music bursts forth from various parts of the theater, music punctuated by bursts of gunfire.(Music pulsating with the sound of gunfire now bursts forth, and there is a general atmosphere of terror.) The actor will now commence his recitation with an effect just like an explosion:

Fear is the fabric of a country we know not.

A troupe of dry-eyed men appears hesitantly. They are wearing earth-colored smocks with hems touching the ground. (A group of men appears at the back of the stage, wearing earth-colored smocks. Dry-eyed, they come forward steadily and gather around the Producer, solemnly reciting):

Fear is the fabric of a country we know not.

PRODUCER: The actor continues, and the troupe echoes his statements.

The time is pregnant with sorrow, with calamities,

Days beget days.

There pours forth dead blood,

Menses and babies insects.

Bodies of the dead disintegrate,

Swallowed by the thirsty earth.

[Yet fear is the fabric of a country we know not.][11]

TROUPE: Fear is the fabric of a country we know not.

PRODUCER (still acting his part):

Invaders pass by,

Hunger comes,

Plague comes,

Decay comes and comes again.

Yet fear is the fabric of a country we don’t know.

TROUPE: Fear is the fabric of a country we don’t know.

[A moment’s pause]

The time is pregnant with sorrow, with calamities.

Days beget days.

There pours forth dead blood,

Menses and babies insects.

[The Producer claps his hands. The Troupe stops and its members withdraw. The lights gradually dim, and the spotlight focuses again on the Producer. The little scene is over.]

PRODUCER (returning to center-stage): I wanted to draw a moral for you all. Recently I’ve noticed–and I devoutly hope this is something purely temporary–that you’ve started looking down on poetry and rejecting it. That’s why I’ve abandoned my idea and started preparing a dramatic presentation. Don’t imagine that it’s been easy. The choice of a text is always the most difficult aspect facing people who work in the drama in our country. We need a text that resonates with this particular period, but the bookstores have nothing to offer. I’m inclined to say they’re totally empty! Of course, I’ve read through Tawfiq al-Hakim’s works before anything else, but unfortunately he despises politics and has no interest in wars. Then I’ve leafed through some other authors’ works too, but found them all, for one reason or another, out of sympathy with the needs of our particular era.

PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE: That’s an insult to our literary tradition.

Tawfiq al-Hakim’s a great writer!

You’re belittling our literary talents and our entire heritage!

PRODUCER: No! I had no intention of criticizing or insulting anyone. Like all of you I have the greatest respect and admiration for all of them. But I’m talking now about a special situation. I’ve been looking for a text that would fit our current circumstances. There’s nothing available in the current repertoire. That’s why  I thought that I’d prefer to do what I’m doing, namely to work with an author to create a text, the subject of which would meld with recent events. I’ve done it before, cooperating several times with `Abd al-ghani al-Sha`ir. Actually I was wrong; I love working with him [it was a mistake to work with him.].[12] How bitter betrayal can be, and how savage the blows administered by friends. But no! I won’t digress….I’ll start again. The story begins in my library. I invited Mr. `Abd al-ghani to visit me, and he came. It was night-time, and our city was still sobbing; gloomy blue light…

[He moves over to the left by the wall; blue light on the stage. An actor comes on stage with two chairs. He is followed by another actor carrying two pictures: one of Molière, the other of Samuel Beckett. He hangs them up on the wall behind the Producer, then leaves. The first actor places the two chairs facing each other, leaving a space between them where there’s supposed to be a desk. The Producer sits down, and the actor who will play the role of the writer follows suit.]

PRODUCER (using his memory): Welcome! It’s been a while since we last met.

`ABD AL-GHANI (performing his actor’s role): Yes indeed, it’s been a long time.

PRODUCER: I was afraid you’d left the city.

[At this point, the real `Abd al-ghani al-Sha`ir stands up in the audience and comes toward the stage.]

`ABD AL-GHANI (the real one, in a loud voice): As long as I’m actually here, there’s no need to have your actors play my part.

[`Abd al-ghani is tall with delicate features. His entire expression is marked by a fixed smile of uncertain significance.]

PRODUCER (surprised): You! You’re here!

`ABD AL-GHANI: I don’t believe I’m not allowed to enter.

[He comes up on to the stage itself.]

PRODUCER: So tell me then: have you got what you want? Just look at the fix you’ve put me in!

[At this point the actor gets up and stands to one side.]

`ABD AL-GHANI (his face wreathed in smiles): I thought you wanted to tell the audience the story of that meeting we had.

PRODUCER (angrily): Exactly right! That’s what I wanted. Sit down.

[The actor now goes offstage.]

We’re going to do the right thing; we’ll say everything that needs to be said. My goal in all this was clear enough, wasn’t it?

`ABD AL-GHANI: No!  I’d say it wasn’t.

PRODUCER: Okay, then sit down. Let’s rehearse for our esteemed audience here the conversation we had.

[`Abd al-ghani sits down. The Producer starts acting as though he is recalling what happened.]

PRODUCER (with a smile): I was afraid you’d left the city.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Are we going back to that again?

PRODUCER: Yes, to the very first expression.

`ABD AL-GHANI: As you wish.

PRODUCER (repeating): I’m saying that I was afraid you’d left the city.

`ABD AL-GHANI (he too now starts acting as though he’s remembering): Me leave the city? Where would I go?

PRODUCER (with a knowing wink): You know. Where most of our friends went. Even now they’re scattered all over the place, in remote villages and the northern cities.

`ABD AL-GHANI: I never even thought about leaving. I was never that scared.

PRODUCER: You’re just like me. My wife kept yelling and screaming that we should go to her family village, but I refused to be defeatist.

[He raises his eyebrows and shakes his head.]

What days they were! Impossible to sleep, impossible to understand. Events piled up in shock waves. What days they were! I almost came to the conclusion that our entire structure was collapsing and the future would turn into one enormous riddle. But, as it is, here we are, still standing on our own feet.

SPECTATORS (from the hall itself): On our feet or our faces?

Our feet have been crushed like corn-stalks.

We been running so much, they’re all scratched and torn.

Let’s hear what they both have to say!

Disgraceful talk!

No, but it’s all true!

No, no, no one can possibly accept that.

[The general din gets louder and louder.]

PRODUCER (pointing angrily at the audience): Are you happy with what’s happening here?

[`Abd al-ghani smiles. The Producer stands up nervously and heads toward the front of the stage to quiet the audience with a hand gesture.]

PRODUCER: You’re making our task that much harder tonight. We’ve been through enough already.

[There’s still a certain amount of noise in the audience, along with some whispering. He raises his voice.]

If things go on this way, we’ll never get to the end.

[Turning toward the wings, he claps his hands. One of the workers comes on stage.]

Let the play begin!

WORKER: Very good.

PRODUCER (directing his words at the front rows): Gentlemen, I’m very sorry. But you’ll soon be able to see for yourselves if I’m to blame for all this.

[He goes back to his seat, and the curtain is lowered. There now follow three minutes, during which the lights go down. The noise stops, and the curtain is raised again. The stage itself is bathed in a wan blue light, except for the corner occupied by the Producer and Author. A beam of white light falls on them. They are both seated as in the previous scene.]

PRODUCER (rehearsing his previous situation all over again): How about you? What happened to you during those tumultuous days.

`ABD AL-GHANI (looking distracted): A veritable cloud of noise, sweat, and big words. (He smiles.) By now I’ve learned very well how to distinguish the voices of radio announcers.

PRODUCER: We’re both the same from that point of view. I still feel as though there’s a number of broadcasts buzzing in my ears at the same time. But I meant something else by my question. I was asking what thoughts these events have triggered in your mind.

`ABD AL-GHANI (after a pause in which the smile never leaves his face): They made me want to burst into tears, but none came. They also made me want to go to sleep; that I could do.

PRODUCER: Who is there among us whose heart was not torn apart like some old piece of fruit? Each one of us could hardly dry his eyes.

SPECTATOR: How easy it is to choose fancy words!

And play the phony!

(A loud voice): For shame, you people! Let them continue…

PRODUCER: Look, I’m talking here from an artistic viewpoint. Savage events like these don’t get repeated very often. They must be a fruitful source for your art and writing. In fact, they’re a fruitful source for every kind of artist.

`ABD AL-GHANI (sarcastically): You’re making me feel proud! Maybe the events only happened so my writing could be enriched. Now I recall the story of the thirteen lines…

PRODUCER: Thirteen lines?

`ABD AL-GHANI: Haven’t you heard it before?

PRODUCER: I don’t think so.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Okay then, listen. Once upon a time a revolution occurred in one of our brother countries, one that was enthusiastically welcomed by a lot of young people. In fact, some of them decided to travel in order to participate in it. Among them was a young man who aspired to become a writer, a political leader, or a movie star–it makes no difference. Later on he became one of his dreams. When this young man and his colleagues reached the capital city of this brotherly country, he booked a room in a hotel. He went to his room at once, took off his clothes, and put on his pyjamas. He then spent a few hours poring over the table, writing thirteen lines about the revolution. Then he left the room and read out what he had written to his colleagues, asking them–with all due pride and amazement–whether the revolution had actually occurred precisely so he could pen these lines. It seems that he spent a long time thereafter reading his lines to his friends and posing the same question.

PRODUCER (laughing): I can see that you still have your sense of fun. An earthquake may have happened, but you can still find a joke to tell. So let your friend in the story go on asking his question till Judgment Day! But what about us? What’s important is that we can’t afford to tie our hands and waste time on stupid questions.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Do you have a plan for a counter-attack?

PRODUCER (smiling): If the time was right, I’d play along with your sense of humor.

`ABD AL-GHANI (distracted): So it’s a new play then?

PRODUCER: Of course! The things that have happened provide us with a golden opportunity to create something superb.

`ABD AL-GHANI (disconcerted): Are you quite sure people these days really want to watch a new play?

PRODUCER: What about you? Do you think it’s even right to ask such questions? Our theater’s a public utility; it can’t grind to a halt or boycott events. Theater’s a necessity, or should be.

`ABD AL-GHANI: I’m sorry. I think there’s a phrase missing in what you’re saying. We shouldn’t get tied up in what interests the public. Theater’s always a necessity, or should be.

PRODUCER: Really? Okay, so be it. In any case, human memory’s different from printing presses and tape-recorders.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Of course, of course! But you seem keen to revisit the entire thing. That’s all I’m saying. I think we can continue on that basis. (Invoking his memory.) The play, yes indeed, the play. But this time it’s on a bigger stage than the small one in this theater of ours.

PRODUCER (delighted): You see? You know how much I enjoy working with you. I admire your imagination and the way you manage to use symbols and warmth to give weight to the scene. The thing we did together for 1956 garnered some well deserved success.

`ABD AL-GHANI: It was easy to sing and chant.

PRODUCER: Chants, characters, and situations as well.

`ABD AL-GHANI: It was so easy to let imagination take flight.

PRODUCER: Yes, and your imagination was not short of either wings or colors. From events of even less significance you’ve managed to produce wonderful works. I can only imagine what a wonderful piece we can put together today. (He waxes enthusiastic). We’ll make history shout on stage!

`ABD AL-GHANI: But haven’t history’s legs started sagging from so much shouting?!

PRODUCER: [That’s why I say that][13] There’s a rich opportunity here, and our field is full of possibilities.

`ABD AL-GHANI: So let’s thank the events once again. They’ve made our task that much easier.

PRODUCER: Listen. You’ve no right to keep repeating things!

`ABD AL-GHANI (blending sarcasm and bitterness): You’ll never acknowledge necessity, will you?!

PRODUCER: If you want the truth, that’s right. We all want to bind time’s circles together and fill the gap that opens up. But stopping work is not an option in any circumstance.  We’re all summoned to achieve something or other.

`ABD AL-GHANI (with extreme bitterness): I can confirm that this morning I’ve read the official newspaper and listened to three news-broadcasts and all the commentaries on the news. I’ve studiously avoided chatting to any citizen and steadfastly refused to spread rumors. I’ve walked along the sidewalk, looking neither around me nor in front. I’ve stared at the ground, so much so that I can describe for you in detail every single paving-stone on the streets I’ve traversed. I’ve done all this as a loyal citizen. You keep going on about necessity! Do you believe I’m one of those people who fall short when it comes to doing what’s necessary?

SPECTATORS (from the hall): What a farce!

True enough, what’s a loyal citizen supposed to be?

We’re all loyal citizens!

If I don’t read newspapers, I can’t be a citizen?

A perverse mockery of everything!

(In a loud voice, someone standing from his seat): At least show some respect for your guests, even if you don’t for the place you’re in.

[The hubbub dies down.]

PRODUCER (shaking his head): So that’s how it is. Maybe you’re feeling happy. Okay, that’s fine. (A few moments pause, then he resumes his role.) We haven’t come here to waste time on humor; there’ll be other opportunities for that. What we need to do now is work as fast as humanly possible; we have to produce something within a few weeks. I need you to roll up your sleeves; you don’t have a lot of time. Do you hear me? A few weeks, no more! I’m confident that your imagination won’t let you down.

`ABD AL-GHANI (hesitantly): But…you must remember that the defeat has had a very negative effect on the imagination.

PRODUCER: Defeat?!

`ABD AL-GHANI. Yes, defeat. Does that word shock you, or is it that it has a weird effect?

PRODUCER: God’s curse on the word ‘defeat’! Who’s talking about a ‘defeat’?

`ABD AL-GHANI: So what is it then?

PRODUCER: What I have in mind is heroism, not defeat. Do you understand? You’re operating in one sphere while I’m in an entirely different one. As you’re well aware, heroism brings with it an inexhaustible supply of inspiration.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Yes, particularly when it’s all illusion and dream.

PRODUCER: Don’t exaggerate! I’m convinced that there’s always heroism. (A pause). And, even when it doesn’t exist, what does that matter for an artist? Mere trivial details!

`ABD AL-GHANI: Perhaps. I’d forgotten how much you hate anything to do with realism.

PRODUCER: Tell me, `Abd al-ghani, what’s realistic? We’ve discussed all this before.  We’re not here to manufacture events or fuss about them. Our task is to be creative, to invoke art.

`ABD AL-GHANI (his voice tinged with a tired sarcasm): Art!  Really? You really mean art?! Forgive me. It’s only natural for things to be a bit confused inside my head.

PRODUCER (with an affectionate smile): If I weren’t used to it, your cynicism would sting.  But I’m not going to let your mockery slow me down. Let’s get our work organized. I’ve some general ideas and scenes in mind.

`ABD AL-GHANI: I’m sure you’ve got almost everything ready.

PRODUCER: No. Just the broad outlines, that’s all. I can envisage some of the scenes, of course. The ending, for example. It’s very clear in my mind. I can start work on it at this very moment. It’s going to be a scene of truly affecting splendor. Just imagine…

`ABD AL-GHANI (interrupting): It’s a bit sad to start with the ending!

PRODUCER: The scene makes me feel genuinely enthusiastic. But okay. You’re right.  Let’s leave the ending for now. I’ll lay out for you what I have in mind. I’m convinced it’s the most appropriate basis for the overall structure of a new dramatic work. For example, just imagine the way it starts: with no introduction. I want to place the spectator right in the middle of the events.

[He raises his voice.]

It is war.

SPECTATORS (from the hall):

But the war’s over!

The war’s not over yet!

You’re going to have to wait a long time before you get to see the second round!

Quiet!

PRODUCER (ignoring the comments from the audience): We can make use of a number of factors to convey the atmosphere. There’ll be a loud explosion from the wings (and there’s a loud explosion in the wings), followed by prolonged interference on the radio (and we hear such interference on the radio).

`ABD AL-GHANI (shocked, but still retaining his sarcastic grin): I really had my doubts that you’d do that!

PRODUCER (aggressively): I’ve a perfect right to present scenes that I’ve thought about.

`ABD AL-GHANI: A shrewd move on your part.

PRODUCER (angrily): There’s no trickery involved. Those are my ideas. It’s only natural for me to present them in my own theatrical way. Or do you want me to strip them of all the dramatic devices we have at our disposal? You could protest if it were parts of your play we were presenting, but I can assure you we won’t be doing that. To the maximum extent possible I’m going to try to deal with your own inclinations.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Hey, don’t lose your temper! I only wanted to acknowledge how clever you are. (He shakes his head.) It would be better for us to continue. I’m coming to the conclusion that we’ve kept them all waiting longer than you envisaged.

PRODUCER: {Never mind!][14] I want them all to realize clearly what my intentions were tonight. Then you can see whether or not I’ve been playing games. But where are we at this point?  Yes, I was saying (invoking his memory again) that the sound of radio interference comes from behind the stage. Then there’s a loud explosion (Loud explosion.) The siren goes off (we hear the sound of the siren going off.) The buzz of planes overhead (Plane noises.). An announcement on the radio.

RADIO ANNOUNCER (from the wings): Following a sneak attack launched by the enemy on our southern territories, war has broken out. At 8.40…

PRODUCER: The sound of sirens dies down, and the announcer’s voice fades away. A number of distressed people come on to the stage. They’re rushing panic-stricken in all directions. (Actors of various ages and sizes enter; some of them snatch glances at the newspapers they are carrying, while others listen to the transistor-radio. As they stumble around with expressions of alarm on their faces, they seem to have no idea where they are going.) I sense that silence is a more profound expression in this scene; everything will be focused on people’s eyes. Even so, there will be a few expressions, such as:

ONE MAN (scared): It’s war.

ANOTHER MAN: God help us all! It really is war.

PRODUCER (continuing): The number of people on the stage keeps increasing. Their movements get faster and more confused as they wander all over the stage. At this point I envisage a young child entering (A young child enters and does everything the Producer says.) He has no idea where he is going. As he walks among the crowd of people, he tries to avoid getting crushed underfoot. When other explosions are heard in the distance and the roar of planes overhead drowns out everything else, he looks up at the sky and burst into tears. Amid all the chaos no one pays him any attention. Whenever there’s another explosion, he puts his hands to his ears and starts running and screaming without knowing where he is going. Do you see? This child can serve as a symbol, a deeply meaningful token of a truly extraordinary period such as the one on which the curtain has now been lifted. Then, as the wailing sirens continue to blare, the stage now empties of all the confused passers-by, and the child looks even more scared and confused. Now only the solitary child remains on stage, not understanding what is happening. He has no idea how he has strayed away from his mother and father. After a  lengthy period of total panic, he rushes off. The stage now turns into a vacant space, from every pore of which emerges a cacophony of noise–buzzing, sirens, explosions in the distance (All of which are replicated on the stage.  But then it all dissolves, and the Producer carries on.). I think this is a good way to start, propelling the spectator straight into the events at their core. But afterwards…needless to say, I’m not claiming that all the subsequent scenes are as clear in my mind. Even so, we can…

[From the middle of the hall, a spectator with a gruff and powerful voice, stands up.]

SPECTATOR (harshly): What fairy-tales are you telling us? You’re a clown, and so are your silent, panic-stricken characters. That child of yours is simply a rag-doll.

OTHER SPECTATORS: That’s inappropriate talk!

God protect us! What’s this show we’re watching tonight?!

PRODUCER (angrily addressing his remarks to the hall): Kindly clean up your remarks, Sir.  You’re not in a cafe!

SPECTATOR: That’s what needs to be said, and a lot more as well. What are you telling us?Where did you see such ragged people floundering about? The war didn’t happen last century; it started less than a month ago. We can all remember that morning vividly. Our war is different from all the others; our war is an ancient and just hope. We can all recall that morning. Streets were filled with people. We all embraced each other, tears falling from sheer emotion and enthusiasm. We weren’t stumbling around with stupid expressions on our faces like those sickly shadows you’ve just presented to us.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): That right!

The women in our quarter were cheering so hard, their throats were sore.

What do you want? That’s the way wars start in American movies!

No, Sir, enough!

PRODUCER (distressed, while `Abd al-ghani’s smile broadens): True enough. I don’t understand what all this fuss is about. Who disagrees? I was one of those who cried for joy. All I wanted to do was to present a dramatic picture of the way the war started.

SPECTATOR: We lived through the real thing.

PRODUCER: We all did. I’m not pretending that we’re offering a documentary version of what happened. Our context here is dramatic art. You’ve clearly misunderstood. If you got the impression that I was intending to depict people as panic-stricken and cowardly, then you’re flat wrong. If you would be patient for just a while, you would see for yourself if that was what I really had in mind. It’s a symbolic image intended to establish an affecting, humane atmosphere of the loftiest kind. This tragedy of mine shows my intentions without the slightest obfuscation or shading. So, I beg you all, please follow our actions quietly and stop interrupting us.

(He turns toward `Abd al-ghani and notices that he is smiling. He grits his teeth, then ploughs ahead.) Where was I? (He thinks for a moment.) Oh yes, [In any case we can help each other tie this whole thing together. At the moment it’s all in separate fragments.  It’ll be up to you to give it structure and provide depth to its various dimensions. For example..][15]  Now I can see four soldiers in battledress coming on stage, and it’s turned into a battle-field…

[The light on the stage now changes. It turns into a muddy arena, with accompanying dust, gas, and bomb flashes. Stage-hands come on, carrying wooden boards covered in mud and dust. They put them down stage-right and set them up as a kind of trench. Four soldiers in army uniform now come rushing on to the stage, covered in mud, thorns, and tree-branches. They are carrying their automatic weapons and are clearly on the alert. They jump into the trench and take up ready positions with their guns pointed directly at the audience.]

PRODUCER: What I’m envisaging with this scene is one where the soldiers are totally blended with the soil, its stones and pebbles, everything connected with the earth. They’re part of it, an extension of it, part of the basic concept. Can you imagine what I have in mind?

`ABD AL-GHANI (scoffing): I’ll give it a try!

PRODUCER: You’re obviously more capable of such a conception than other people. What I mean is, are you following me?

`ABD AL-GHANI (quietly): I follow you.

PRODUCER (sensing the sarcasm and getting annoyed): Fine, OK! Let’s forget about that. So what I’m saying (acting out his words again…) The soldiers are huddled close to the ground, lying in wait. There’s a heavy silence permeated by frenzied glances on their part. No enemy’s going to get past here; that’s what their eyes keep saying. We’re death; that’s what we’ve become. That’s what their expressions keep proclaiming. As the din of battle subsides a little, their dry mouths blurt out a few isolated words:

SECOND SOLDIER: The raid’s over.

THIRD SOLDIER: They’re planning something else.

FIRST SOLDIER: For sure.

PRODUCER: Then there’s silence again, as heavy as molten lead. Anticipation hovers overhead like fate or disaster…

`ABD AL-GHANI (disgusted): I’m supposed to get involved at this point, right?

PRODUCER: Of course!

`ABD AL-GHANI (pauses for a moment, then shakes his head and mutters): Er…um…At first I was being sarcastic; I remember it very clearly. But who knows how…even now, I don’t know how…Bit by bit I found myself being pulled in…

PRODUCER: At the time you intervened to use some different words, I think.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Yes indeed, different words, but with no significance.

PRODUCER: There’s no time now to put up a defense for a piece of work that is indefensible. (Gloating) We’re narrating another event here.

`ABD AL-GHANI (nodding his head): Fine, fine! I’ll admit that you’re clever. So be it! (A pause, as he invokes his memory) The third soldier turns to his colleagues…

THIRD SOLDIER: Now we’re four.

SECOND SOLDIER: Our fate will be no different from the others’.

PRODUCER: And the fourth one says…

FOURTH SOLDIER: It’s only bad luck that’s kept us here in their place.

PRODUCER (continuing): An explosion rings out in the distance, and they fall silent again.

`ABD AL-GHANI: The Second Soldier says:

SECOND SOLDIER: Ahmad wants you to deliver his letter to his wife.

`ABD AL-GHANI: And the Third Soldier replies:

THIRD SOLDIER: But what about our letters?  Will they ever get there?

`ABD AL-GHANI: And the First Solider follows up with:

FIRST SOLDIER: Don’t people say that the heart’s the best guide? In that case, back there hearts are undoubtedly pounding. At such a moment, lights will flicker, and hearts will pound once just like an earth tremor. Wailing voices will burst forth, and a lengthy period of tense waiting will come to an end.

PRODUCER: That’s an effective follow-up, no doubt, but I think… (he hesitates) Is it really useful to mix up our daily business with truly heroic situations like this one?

`ABD AL-GHANI: What are you trying to say? What do you mean by ‘daily business’?

PRODUCER: I mean…(he pauses)…I mean to say that this soldier, as you’re already aware, is primarily a symbol.

`ABD AL-GHANI: In other words, he’s superior to normal human beings.

PRODUCER: And to our trivial concners in general.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Way above any emotional ties, and those paltry feelings that regularly inhabit our hearts: fear, love, panic, and regret.

PRODUCER: Don’t take things so far! I keep asking myself whether this symbol of ours is not weakened if we infuse it with trivial links to everyday things.

`ABD AL-GHANI: The one thing I know for sure myself is that soldiers marry and have children; they have family and relatives. Just like us they like the good things in life and own more of them than we do.

PRODUCER (after a moment’s reflection): I know, I know.  But…(he pauses)…that’s not important. At any rate you’ll be the one to work out the ideal way to build the characters and plot the situations they’re in. All I want to do is to lay out the general concept I’ve in mind; that’s all. The rest of it is where your specialization comes in. Let’s continue. (returning to the play…) Taking up again the sad, intermittent conversation between the four soldiers…

FIRST SOLDIER: I once heard Shaykh `Abd al-Ghaffar say…anyone who dies a martyr has his name proclaimed by melodious voices in heaven.

SECOND SOLDIER: Floating on white wings.

FIRST SOLDIER: Greeted by lovely songs, his wounds brushed by luminous fingers like balsam.

THIRD SOLDIER (looking up with a sigh): Our companions are waiting for us now. Maybe they were smiling.

`ABD AL-GHANI: I think the Fourth Soldier will join the conversation last and say:

FOURTH SOLDIER: Then I hope the mange gets you! Forget about heaven and voices.  Otherwise you’re going to see fire-flies in front of you instead of fighters.

PRODUCER: At such a transparent moment I think that comments like that are very harsh.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Are they supposed to be at the battlefront or taking part in a Sufi ritual?

PRODUCER: It doesn’t matter. I envision the scene as having a spiritual dimension. The Second Soldier now responds:

SECOND SOLDIER: No blaspheming! What can we do if we lose heaven’s assistance?

THIRD SOLDIER: In days of old the heavens would rain down ‘stones of baked clay’ on our enemies.[16]

FIRST SOLDIER: Yes, and ‘birds in flights.’

FOURTH SOLDIER: Today the stones and birds are all raining down on us. (angrily) But I don’t understand why it’s quiet all of a sudden. What all those devils planning now?

FIRST SOLDIER: Did you see their tanks? Full-scale demons!

THIRD SOLDIERS: Their other weapons too! Almost magical…

FIRST SOLDIER (after a pause): What defeatist calculations!

SECOND SOLDIER: But we’re a solid phalanx, each one of us a steadfast wall, defiantly confronting both them and all their demons. We’re going to make them curse their own ancestors!

PRODUCER (enthusiastically): Yes, that’s almost right. That’s the way I imagine the scene going. A period of silence, then one of them gets up carefully (the Third Soldier does exactly what the Producer is saying) and looks around: ground stretching away, stones, and dug ditches. He senses the loneliness of their position.

THIRD SOLDIER: It’s as though we’re in a wilderness.

SECOND SOLDIER: It won’t be as long as we’re here.

FOURTH SOLDIER: If only we had some idea of what’s happening in other places!

FIRST SOLDIER: They lost just like us, with no orders or communications.

SECOND SOLIDER: But we’re in our trench and on our own territory. We’re doing the one thing we’re supposed to be doing.

PRODUCER: Another bubble of tense silence hovers over them. Their eyes look this way and that, as feverish as the flames of battle.

`ABD Al-GHANI: Then one of them mumbles feebly:

THIRD SOLDIER: I haven’t had a letter from my family in over a month. I promised them I’d take a leave a week ago, but then these events happened, and all leaves were cancelled. My little brother’s expecting me to bring him a toy that works. [If I’d been able to go, I’d have bought him a small car.

SECOND SOLDIER: I’ve no idea what’s happened to my son, `Isam. The last letter I got from my family said that his body had some gangrene. (He smiles.) Never in my entire life have I seen a child more lovable than he. Can you believe it? He almost never cries. He puts up with the pain like a grown man. I’ve never met such a serene child. (A pause.) How I wish I could have the chance again to carry him in my arms, if only for a moment, to kiss him, play with him, and hear him calling my name…

FOURTH SOLDIER: They won’t be waiting all that long before showing up?

THIRD SOLDIER (nervously): Bastards! Let them show their faces!

SECOND SOLDIER: I’m asking anyone who survives to visit my family and kiss my son.

THIRD SOLDIER: And I’m asking anyone who escapes to buy a small toy car and send it to my younger brother.][17]

FIRST SOLDIER: When my last leave was over, I had a row with my family. But now, it all seems so sad!

SECOND SOLDIER: Why did you have a row?

FIRST SOLDIER (with a sigh): It’s a long story about love and marriage.

PRODUCER (running out of patience): The sound of planes is heard in the distance.

FOURTH SOLDIER: So now they’re attacking again.

THIRD SOLDIER: Cowards! They only dare to move an inch if they have air-cover!

PRODUCER (in his enthusiasm, the words come tumbling out): I don’t know how we’re going to construct the conversation between them. What we’re doing now is simply coming up with general ideas; that’s all. (He now acts out his words.) Planes approach from a distance; a series of bomb explosions; the sound of machines everywhere; armored cars, tanks advancing. Fighting breaks out again. (The audience hears all these sounds, and the atmosphere of conflict pervades the stage.) My idea is that the sheer scale of the attack and the small number of fighters resisting it can provide a bitter lesson with the most profound implications!

[The soldiers are all terrified, and show exaggerated emotions. They then plunge nervously into the battle.]

SECOND SOLDIER (aghast): To the right.

 FIRST SOLIDER: Here come the armored cars.

THIRD SOLDIERS: The bastards!

FOURTH SOLDIER: One bullet per man. Aim carefully, and let death do its worst.

[The soldiers aim their guns towards the audience, and there follows the clatter of gunfire.]

PRODUCER: The battle commences and soon turns into a living hell.

THIRD SOLDIER: Take that!

SECOND SOLDIER: Take that…and that…

[Amid the general din of battle the sound of machine-gun fire is almost rhythmic.]

SECOND SOLDIER: Don’t forget the pledge I made.

PRODUCER: Some shrapnel comes flying in (the Third Solider falls on his gun).

FRIST SOLDIER (quickly checking the blooded body): He’s dead.

SECOND SOLDIER: Take that!

FOURTH SOLDIER: OK, let them run over corpses. That’s what it’ll be, corpses.

PRODUCER: More shrapnel comes flying in.

FIRST SOLDIER: Agh! (he falls on the edge of the trench)

SECOND SOLIDER: He’s dead.

FOURTH SOLDIER: What a lousy war! Let’s give them a taste of death. Aim carefully.

PRODUCER: More shrapnel (the other two are killed as well. The firing stops, and the din fades away).

PRODUCER: Can you picture them, lying there by the edge of their trench, as silent as dry screams emitted by an angry earth–an earth whose sanctity is being violated? In addition,  music will enable me to display the many aspects of a fervent scene, as though it were history…a tableau ends here.

[The Soldiers get up from their trench and go back to the wings.  After a pause, the Producer continues with his narration.]

PRODUCER: I envisage the din of war continuing during the interval, assuming that there will be one. I’m anxious that the spectators’ emotions and reactions should not be interrupted and the general atmosphere should remain tense when our more comprehensive tableau begins…

`ABD AL-GHANI (we have no idea whether he’s being sarcastic or not): Tell me…have you finished with the soldiers?

PRODUCER (astonished): Weren’t they killed in their trench. Haven’t you been following me?

`ABD AL-GHANI: Certainly I’ve been following you. I’m aware that they’ve been killed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re finished.

PRODUCER: I don’t get what you’re talking about.

`ABD AL-GHANI: What I mean to say is: even though they’ve been killed, why don’t you let them still have a part in the play. That will enrich their possibilities as characters and give the entire production a powerful symbolic dimension.

PRODUCER (letting his mind wander slowly): Still have a part in the play…still have a part in the play…(lost in thought).

SPECTATORS (from the hall, at the same time): Here they are, reviving the dead, and killing the living.

What a funny play!

Who can revive people who’ve actually been killed?

‘They are truly alive with their Lord and well provided for.’[18]

PRODUCER (emerging from his contemplation with a smile on his face, and clasping `Abd al-ghani by the shoulders): Do you see why I love working with you? ‘They still have a part in the play.’ What an amazing idea, one that no one else could have come up with. Ah yes. This is going to be amazing. It’ll tie the scenes together and give the final image additional force; not only that, but it’ll also allow for their development and make their actions that much more profound. I envision them as arriving in the middle of a fierce argument, a surprising and fresh element in a discussion that has been limited, in spite of its tremendous significance.

`ABD AL-GHANI (with a cryptic smile): What argument is that?

PRODUCER: I’ll show you, I’ll show you. Another scene (while the Producer is talking, theater workers come on stage carrying different decor and start setting up a new scene.) I’m now absolutely certain that we’re going to produce a work that will definitely demand careful attention. At the very outset I told you that I only had a number of disconnected images in my head. But at this point, thanks to your imagination, they’re all fusing and coming together. At first I was envisaging a frontline village that woke up to the sound of bomb-blasts and the din of war–a normal village like hundreds of others in our countryside. (As the Producer is talking, the stage-hands set up a village close to his description.) Clay houses scattered around with no particular pattern, but, as is usually the case, clustered around a pond in the middle of a space constituting the village-square. To the right is a stone mosque, with its minaret pointing up into the sky. In this village, the inhabitants are like other people living in the provinces: stolid men displaying their self-esteem and courage like the white kaffiyehs that cover their heads. As the curtain rises again, we hear the last phrases of the call-to-prayer. Just then, the scene discloses a group  of men running from every direction; gruff expressions on their faces reflecting both the stubborn posture of rural folk and panic. Young children also run in between the older men, likewise not knowing what is happening. Everyone meets in front of the mosque.

[The stagehands finish erecting the decor representing the village as described.  Distant echoes of the call-to-prayer. The men remain silent, but their expressions are those of surprise and panic; they start congregating in front of the mosque, with young children running in between them.]

PRODUCER (continuing): Have you noticed? Now the picture is more comprehensive.  Needless to say, I’m not trying to constrain your work with too many images and minor details. Your get my intentions: a village in wartime. I envisage that the play’s structure will come together that way; I don’t know exactly how you’ll construct things, but what I’m interested in is the overall scenario itself: a noble struggle upon which a difficult future is to be founded. People here are faced with two choices, and in their small world, one that’s based on a simple life and constructive values, the issue becomes just as difficult and pressing as war itself. So here they all are, gathered in the village-square. (There’s a general hubbub, although no particular words can be clearly heard.  The Producer continues.) The children all look scared, and their eyes are full of questions. It is because of the young children that the moment acquires additional importance and weight; they make the questioning that much more intense. It will be better if, as in the previous scene, the external linkages are still severed. Do you agree with my ideas? (The din increases.) This village is detached from the body of the homeland, and yet it is by virtue of its severance in this way that it comes to symbolize the entire homeland. It is up to these people to choose their own destiny through free will. Do you see what I’m getting at?

`ABD AL-GHANI: Absolutely. You don’t want any cowards in your village.

PRODUCER: You’ll see, you’ll see. Cowardice has no place in this situation, replete as it is with its own glory.  In fact, my conception is even more profound than that. Two situations, each with its own pretext. Now the struggle acquires its own purpose and value. As you can see, events have caught them by surprise.

[Now there’s movement among the crowd of people on stage. The din dies down, and words can now be heard.]

VOICES: God is greatest!

God help us!

It’s war.

As though there’s been an earthquake!

The border’s close by.

May God save us from His wrath!

God curse them all till the Day of Judgment!

And all heretics!

I was expecting some kind of treachery on such a morning!

Our homes will collapse on our heads!

And our children will die.

Are we starting to moan like a load of women?

We’re not moaning.

So what do you call this kind of scared talk?

God curse every coward till Judgment Day!

Who’s talking about cowards?

Honor before all else.

No puny weakling was ever born in our village!

People, what is this kind of talk?

It’s better to have opinions than fight about things.

Yes indeed, but what the opinion in question?

That’s what we need to discuss.

[The sound of gunfire grows louder, and a distant explosion is heard.]

Help us, Lord all-powerful!

God is greatest!

God is greatest! (now the voices come all at once.) God is greatest! God is greatest!

God is greatest!

[The repeated expressions acquire a rhythm of their own, a combination of fear, worry, and bewilderment.)

VOICE (from far away, but getting closer, yelling): Fire!  Fire!

[A peasant comes on stage looking distressed. He comes forward, panting):

PEASANT: God alone knows what’s happening. (Still out of breath.) Fire…fire! The Almighty One have mercy on us all! I watched as it filled the horizon; the smoke from it obliterated the sky.

VOICES: Fire!

Fire! Fire!

Where?

Where did you see it?

PEASANT: In `Ali Na`us’s orchard, for sure, close to it.

VOICE: You said, my orchard? My orchard is on fire?

[He tries to run off, but men grab him.]

VOICE: Let me go. My orchard’s on fire, my orchard’s on fire!

VOICES (all talking at the same time): O God Protector.

What’s the point. What can you do?

Trust in God and calm down.

The fire’s at the orchard. That’s closer than we think.

PEASANT (continuing): I went to my land early this morning. I needed to plough it.

VOICE: Ah me!  My orchard! What’ll be left? (he bursts into tears.)

PEASANT (carrying on): I heard noise and gunfire. I didn’t think it was dangerous. I rushed to finish my work, then went home. But those planes…Your kindness and mercy, O God!..I watched as the planes crossed the sky over my head, like angry black birds. The earth shook and so did people’s feet. God have mercy on us all! Who dares to stay here in this place. The fire!  With my own eyes I watched as it consumed everything, greenery and dry twigs.

VOICE: My orchard’s on fire…my orchard.

PEASANT: It’s moving in our direction. God have mercy on us! What are we going to do now?

VOICES (all at once): Yes, what are we going to do?

What’s to be done?

Let’s decide quickly.

Decide what?

[There’s a loud explosion close by, which terrifies everybody and send them all into a panic.]

VOICES: The very mountains are shaking.

To God alone belongs the majesty!

What are we waiting for?

The fire’s getting closer.

And bombs keep exploding.

We can’t dilly-dally.

So what do people think?

What…what’s to be done?

VOICE: The mukhtar should say something.

VOICES: That’s right, the shaykh should talk.

[The shaykh now appears in the middle of the group.]

VOICE: Or the village elders.

VOICES: Yes, the village elders.

[The village elders now stand apart.]

VOICES: Anyone with an idea should speak.

What’s to be done?

What are we going to do?

`ABDALLAH (a sturdy man with a fierce expression. He’s wearing a white kaffiyeh): Are there a thousand choices before us?

VOICES: So what’s your idea?

The fire’s getting closer.

We’ve women and children.

Anyone with an idea should talk.  Let’s hurry!

MUKHTAR (angrily): Listen, people. Let’s discuss things calmly. If everyone speaks at once, we won’t make any decisions.

VOICES: Yes, let’s discuss things calmly.

Quiet!

We can’t hang around.

But my orchard’s burning!

Everything’s going to burn.  God alone knows what’s happening…

MUKHTAR: People, what’s the point of all this fuss? Let’s discuss things reasonably and logically.

VOICE: Quiet!

MUKHTAR: `Abdallah, what do you want so say?

`ABDALLAH: What I want to say is quite clear, Mukhtar. Invaders are attacking our land and our houses.  What do you intend to do?

VOICES: Fight them.

Don’t forget that they’re stronger than us.

Let’s slaughter them like sheep.

The land’s precious, but our children are even more so.

`ABDALLAH (in a loud voice): I’m beginning to smell the stench of cowardice and humiliation.

[The children are running between the legs of their parents, playing war-games. A child imitates the sound of explosions; another one acts like a soldier with a gun; they chase each other while they play. With each explosion, they scream…]

VOICES: Courage is one thing, but dying’s something else.

That statement’s clear enough.

Indeed…the stench of cowardice is making itself felt.

Such accusations are inappropriate.

What have you been saying?

At this point there’s a cost to every minute!

MUKHTAR: If everyone speaks at the same time, we’ll never make a decision.

VOICE (one of the elders): God help us all. Everyone should control their nerves and tongue!

MUKHTAR: So, `Abdallah, you think we should stay.

`ABD ALLAH: Of course. There’s nothing else we can do.

VOICES: God preserve you, `Abdallah!

Yes, we should stay.

We’ll give them a taste of death before they can enter our square.

VOICE (one of the elders): Don’t be too hasty in making decisions!

VOICE (another of the elders): How exactly are we going to give them a taste of death?

VOICE. Using every fighting instinct I possess: my axe, my cane, my hand. We’ll teach them what it means to be a man.

VOICE (one of the elders): There’s a big divide between courage and sheer folly. Are you planning to fight guns with a cane?

`ABDALLAH: And what about you? Do you want to give the land that I inherited from my grandfathers to some son of a bitch who’s invading us?

VOICES: Death’s preferable to that!

The only way they’ll take our land is when it’s covered with corpses.

What are we going to do with our children?

And our women?

It’s despicable to even think about running away.

Their army is massive.  How many people do we have?

VOICE (loud, overtopping the din): ‘How many small groups have managed to defeat larger ones, with God’s permission.’[19]

VOICES (sounding scared): God has spoken the truth!

But why isn’t the shaykh saying anything?

Yes, the shaykh should say something.

SHAYKH: Today God Almighty is testing the hearts and wisdom of His believers. I cannot leave God’s house empty. I shall remain steadfast for Him inside and await whatever God decrees for me. The rest of you can be guided to a sensible decision by the mukhtar and the village elders.

VOICES: Why don’t we remain steadfast?

We won’t allow them to desecrate God’s sanctuary.

[The sound of jet planes is heard in the distance, and ear-splitting explosions are heard. The children scream.]

Do you hear?

What have you to say, Mukhtar?

Merciful God, look on us with kindness!

VOICE (one of the elders): Give us your opinion, Mukhtar.

VOICES: Yes, Mukhtar, give us your opinion.

`ABD ALLAH: Be careful, Mukhtar. Your words may be taken as a blueprint for action.

[The scene freezes at this point, and the voices recede.]

PRODUCER: A tricky situation. You can see how I’m portraying things. The Mukhtar is not a coward, nor are those people who are suggesting that it would be better to run away than to stay. And yet the situation is a delicate one that does not allow words to be discrete and to offer separate messages. For that very reason they soon divide up into separate groups.

`ABD AL-GHANI (with a smile): So here prudence involves a confrontation with courage!

PRODUCER (trying to ignore the sarcasm): If you want to put it that way…Each posture has its extremes. But the events are brutal; there’s no room for delay. I can see the mukhtar hesitating to act, while the village itself divides into two groups and the children keep on screaming.

`ABD AL-GHANI: And what about the dead soldiers?

PRODUCER: Their turn will come…their turn will come.

[The scene starts to move again. The noise gets louder. The children are still playing: one of them pretends to shoot a rifle, while another jumps on him, pretending to brandish a dagger, and hits him on the shoulder. The two children fight each other.]

MUKHTAR (hesitantly, to the Peasant): Was fire all you saw?

[Someone pulls the two children apart and scolds them both.]

PEASANT: By God Almighty, all I saw were planes shooting by like arrows.

`ABD ALLAH: Why the hesitation, Mukhtar. The situation’s as obvious as the mosque minaret. The enemy is hell-bent on violating the sanctity of our lands and homes. Shall we turn our backs and run away as fast as our legs can carry us?

VOICE (signs of division appearing): May we live no more if we do that!

MUKHTAR: How are we supposed to remain steadfast? We have no weapons, and, as you can see, we’re few in number.

`ABDALLAH: We can stay here, steadfast till death. That’s quite enough time.

VOICES (they begin to gather around `Abdallah): We’re with you.

That’s what men are supposed to be.

God preserve you!

VOICES (who start clustering around the Mukhtar): That’s sheer folly.

We don’t want to commit suicide!

Let’s think of the future.

MUKHTAR: We’ve been taken by surprise. We’ve not made any preparations.

VOICE (one of the village elders): Before anyone makes a decision, he should look at the situation as its really is.

MUKHTAR: In my opinion, we’ve no choice but to…

`ABDALLAH (interrupting him angrily): So then, Mukhtar, your choice is to run away.

MUKHTAR (furious): I’m not running away. You know very well that I’m not one of those people who piss every time there’s danger. If it were my decision alone, I would be just as ready to stay as you are. But I have responsibilities. I have to think about people’s safety, not to mention protecting women and children.

VOICES: That needs to be said.

Yes indeed, a certain composure is better than sheer recklessness.

What can our life be after our children?!

`ABDALLAH (getting more and more annoyed): What about our land? Are we going to give it to those bastards as a free gift?!

MUKHTAR: People’s lives are more important than land.

`ABDALLAH: Why should people stay if the rest of their lives is going to involve humiliation and degradation? What will we tell our ancestors in the next world when they ask us about the land they bequeathed us?

MUKHTAR: We’ll get the land back, `Abdallah.

`ABDALLAH: Anyone who’s willing to surrender his land to the first invader doesn’t deserve to keep it.

MUKHTAR: We’ll leave now, but only so we can come back again fully prepared and organized to fight.

`ABDALLAH: That’s a flimsy excuse for losing your homeland.

MUKHTAR: We have to think about the future. We have no right to commit suicide for nothing. We must take care of our women and children. Once that’s done, we can return to the battlefield unencumbered and better armed.

`ABDALLAH: Cowardice doesn’t have seven names. What a disgrace!

MUKHTAR: Don’t be so quick to pass judgment. You’ll be wrong.

VOICES: It’s a disgrace to call the Mukhtar a coward.

Is this the right time for name-calling and disagreement?

The fire’s getting even closer, and we’re still wasting time talking.

What do you call a situation like this?

Cowardice and shame.

[TWO VOICES (children, all blending in with the general din): You’re a coward.

Are saying that to me?

Yes, you.

My father’s with `Abdallah.

And you’re a coward.

(One starts chasing the other.)][20]

VOICE (one of the village elders): For shame, people! Are we going to confront the enemy amidst discord and arguments?

YOUNG MAN (who moves away from the group and stands facing `Abdallah): We all realize that your attitude is noble and manly. If the circumstances were different, no one would be able to disagree with you. But just look how things are turning out. (There another explosion.) A powerful and deceitful enemy is taking us by surprise. We’ve nothing to fight with. If we were to stay here, we’d all die and there’d be no hope left. But, if we withdraw now, we’ll be keeping children and women alive. The light will still be there, and so will we; it won’t be the end of time.

`ABDALLAH: Hiding behind our women’s skirts and turning our backs on the enemy; that’s what you’re suggesting  I would not be a man if I accepted such humiliation. I’m staying, and there’s no point in arguing about it. For shame! They’re attacking our lands and homes, and you’re going to leave it all to them. So leave, if you want to, Mukhtar!  Get your women together and leave. Anyone who wants to stay can join me here. You’ll learn that only death can quash a man’s honor.

VOICES: I’ll stay with you.

It’s not just clothes that differentiate men and women!

We’ll stay till the last person is alive.

With you till the very end!

I’ll teach them about burning people’s orchards.

[There’s a general din as a number of village people join `Abdallah. People cringe as a huge explosion rocks the place. Children scatter as well and are scolded by their parents. One of them tries to join `Abdallah’s group, and his father slaps him.]

`ABD AL-GHANI: Now’s the point at which the soldiers need to appear, I think.

PRODUCER: Exactly! It’s as though you’re reading my mind! As the two groups are separating, the four soldiers appear. Their faces are covered in dust and dirt, and their eyes stare blankly without blinking. They walk with heavy tread like specters in chains. `Abdallah is still shouting:

`ABDALLAH: Listen, men, let’s protect ourselves against shame. We need to look for things to fight with.

VOICES: Soldiers (and everyone looks in their direction).

Yes, they’re soldiers.

They’re exhausted.

What’s the story?

What are you carrying?

They look so pale!

`ABDALLAH (viciously): What have you brought us? Are you looking for somewhere to hide?

PRODUCER: So…are we going to let the soldiers tell their story?

`ABD AL-GHANI: No, of course not. They’ll simply smile and say nothing. `Abdallah’s going to get even angrier.

`ABDALLAH: Say something! What have you come here for? We’re not opening our homes to run-aways.

`ABD AL-GHANI: One of the soldiers now answers with a disarmingly calm neutrality.

SECOND SOLDIER: We’ve been killed.

VOICES: Killed?

`ABDALLAH: Killed? Okay then, find yourselves a grave and lie in it! (He turns towards the men in his group.) Okay, men, we’ve not much time. (Another loud explosion) Anyone who’s decided to stay can protect himself from shame. He should carry whatever weapon he has.

VOICE: What do you mean?

`ABDALLAH: We’re tied down by our possessions, so let’s get rid of them and our shame. Follow me.

[He leads his men away.]

VOICES: What are they going to do?

That was a cryptic message he used.

He had a fiery look in his eye.

Your forgiveness, O God!

SHAYKH: O Merciful and Compassionate One! I seek refuge inside your house and await my death, extolling Your name.

[He withdraws inside the mosque.]

PRODUCER: What a fearful moment! `Abdallah and his men have left, with decisions written in their expressions that are enough to make people quiver in terror. The people still left in the village-square look at each other, hoping that their suspicions are not correct. They look totally overwhelmed, unable to move. I envisage this as the climactic scene in the play. The lights gradually dim. Music with a strong beat to it accompanies the sound of explosions (all these statements are replicated on the stage). The entire place resounds to a woman’s terrified scream..then another..wailing…shrieks. The music gets even louder. Black birds hover overhead, and dire panic too. Men shudder, and words start emerging from their mouths…in utter disbelief.

VOICES (throttled by fear): How appalling!

They’re killing their women.

[The noise of jet-planes comes closer.]

What’s this?

I beg God’s forgiveness.

Let’s do something.

Woe is me! Unbelievable…

Terrible.

Horrific.

`ABDALLAH (his voice comes roaring out, hysterical, from the back of the square): Now there won’t be any shame to scare us.

[The planes start bombing, and everyone is scared to death.]

VOICES: They’re bombing us.

God Almighty!

It’s fire they’re bombing us with.

Let’s hide.

They’ll bring our houses down on top of us.

Let’s split up and hide.

O Powerful God!

[They scatter in all directions, panic-stricken. The air-raid intensifies.]

`ABD AL-GHANI: All this time the four soldiers remain on the stage as witnesses, unblinking, their muddy faces calm and serene. Bombs hail down and fires spread. They talk to each other.

FOURTH SOLDIER: They’re napalm bombs.

FIRST SOLDIER: Which can even melt steel.

[A long pause. The raid continues.]

THIRD SOLDIER: Houses are being destroyed.

[Another long silence…]

FOURTH SOLDIER: They’re napalm bombs, for sure.

SECOND SOLDIER: They make steel flow like water.

[Another long silence. For a while the bombing intensifies, then the planes start moving away.]

FIRST SOLDIER: The planes are moving away.

SECOND SOLDIER: The raid seems to be over.

FOURTH SOLDIER: Their ground forces will be here soon.

FIRST SOLDIER: Like so many creeping locusts!

[The planes move away. Wailing, cries, shouts. The villagers start emerging from their hiding-places and running all over the place, dragging their moans and fears behind them. Isolated comments can be heard as they move beyond the square to stables and sheds at the back. The whole scene is utterly chaotic as people keep rushing around aimlessly.]

VOICES: Woe is me!

My son…my son.

`Abd al-rahman al-Duri’s house is demolished.

God Almighty!

My back. I’m on fire.  Help!

What sorrow!

Fire.

Your help, O God!

My family’s buried under the rubble.

Woe is me!  Please help me.

My boy!

Everything’s going to burn up.

Hurry up…

[`Abdallah now appears carrying a hunting rifle. He looks crushed. He approaches the four soldiers.]

`ABDALLAH (his voice sounding like the smoke from the fires): I’ll show the bastards; I’ll show them.

FOURTH SOLDIER: They’ll soon be here.

`ABDALLAH: Let them come. I want them to come. Then we’ll see.

[At this point a man appears carrying his small son. The boy is groaning, and his face has been marred by napalm. The man runs around aimlessly with the boy and comes up to `Abdallah.]

MAN: Take a look, `Abdallah. See what they’ve done to my son. Are we supposed to stay here and watch our children being burned alive? Just look at his face. He was as pretty as a picture. Didn’t you see him before? Ah me…he was as pretty as a picture.

[He cannot control himself any longer and bursts into tears. `Abdallah’s expression turns even more furious.]

MUKHTAR (from somewhere else in the village, out of sight): Listen, people. Grab what you want, and let’s get out of here.

FOURTH SOLDIER: They really will be here soon.

FIRST SOLDIER: Yes, like creeping locusts.

`ABDALLAH: Fine then, let them come before my heart explodes in pieces.

VOICE (crossing the stage): No, no, we can’t waste time digging up rubble.

MUKHTAR (still out of sight): Hurry up, people. Let’s gather as quickly as we can.

[Three of the men in `Abdallah’s group approach, with frowns on their faces. Their hands and clothes are covered in blood. One of them is carrying an axe, the other two have hunting rifles. The two approach `Abdallah and address him calmly, but in a tone that blends suppressed sorrow and anger.]

FIRST MAN: You slaughtered my wife, `Abdallah.

SECOND MAN: You slaughtered my two little girls, `Abdallah.

THIRD MAN: You slaughtered my entire family, `Abdallah.

`ABDALLAH (choking up): I know…I know. `Abdallah was even quicker than you in killing his own family. No..no…don’t smell the stench of their blood, or else our resolve will freeze. Now our backs are to the wall, so let’s leave our anger to seethe like the raging seas. We have concealed our honor in the folds of death, so let our desperation plunge its way ahead like so many wounded bulls. But when will they arrive?

FOURTH SOLDIER: They won’t be long.

THIRD SOLDIER: That’s right, they won’t be long.

`ABDALLAH (yelling): I’m ready for them! My patience is running out…

VOICES (the villagers gather on one side of the square, carrying pots and pans along with all their moans and fears): What about the corpses?

Woe is me!

Mercy, O God!

Let’s think about the living.

Ah me!  My mother is dead.

God have mercy on her!

What’s the point of mourning?

O Wise God, Your wrath is mighty indeed!

We’re all in the same boat here.

Dirgham’s house is on fire.

It may reach every house in the village.

Let’s save ourselves.

[A young man enters carrying on his shoulders a girl screaming in agony.]

YOUNG MAN: Ah me! Her body was just like a tree in leaf. If only you could see what’s happened to it now.

MAN: My son. Just look at his face. He was as pretty as a picture.

YOUNG GIRL (moaning): I’m going to die.

YOUNG MAN (stunned): No! I’ll carry you to the ends of the earth. I’ll save you. You can’t die; I’m going to save you.

VOICES (all mingled): Woe is me!

O God, look at Your servants and have pity!

The world’s turning upside down. I feel as though I’m falling.

Lord of the heavens, be gentle with us!

[`Abdallah stares at them, his expression full of humiliation and agony.]

MUKHTAR: As you can see, we can’t possibly stay here. Let’s ask for God’s help and leave.

THIRD SOLDIER: Yes, you should all leave!

VOICES (a blend of sobs, groans, and children’s tears): What about my family…Am I going to leave them buried under the rubble?

What about the fires?

And the wounded.

O God…!

What’s happening to us?

What an enormous sin!

MUKHTAR (out loud): That’s enough hesitation! Let’s save what’s left and get out of here.

FIRST SOLDIER: That’s right, don’t hang around.

FOURTH SOLDIER: That’s right, don’t hang around.

THE OTHER TWO SOLDIERS: That’s right, don’t hang around.

VOICES (all mingled, expressing pain, not questions): Our lands.

Our family, our homes.

Our livelihood.

FOURTH SOLDIER: We’ll stay here.

SECOND SOLDIER: We won’t abandon the land.

FOURTH SOLDIER: We won’t abandon any land.

FIRST SOLDIER: We won’t let the houses stay empty.

THIRD SOLDIER: We’ll stay until you come back.

ALL THE SOLDIERS: Till you come back. We’re going to stay on all the land and in every house.

MUKHTAR (amazed, then enthusiastic): You’re going to stay here?! You’ll guard land and home till we come back…

ALL THE SOLDIERS (in unison): Yes, that’s what we’re going to do.

MUKHTAR: You’ll stop them settling here. You can disturb their peace and quiet.

ALL THE SOLDIERS (in unison): Yes…we’ll do that.

MUKHTAR: You’ll fill their nights with nightmares and their catnaps with terror.

ALL THE SOLDIERS (in unison): Yes indeed…yes.

MUKHTAR (enthused): That’s terrific! Do you hear? They’re going to stay here and wait till we all come back. No houses will be empty, and no land will be deserted. So then, let’s put our trust in God and leave in good hope. (He turns to `Abdallah) Come on, `Abdallah, bring your men with you.

`ABDALLAH: Us?

MUKHTAR: Don’t be stubborn.

`ABDALLAH: What’s left for us?

MUKHTAR: What’s left is worth more than what’s been lost.

`ABDALLAH: Our despair is a heavy load to bear. We can’t walk with it. We’ll stay here with the soldiers, Mukhtar. You leave, and don’t delay.

MUKHTAR: That’s your final word?

`ABDALLAH AND HIS MEN (in unison): There’s no more to be said, Mukhtar.

MUKHTAR: Then may God take you all into His care. Let us embrace.

[The Mukhtar embraces `Abdallah and his men one by one. When he gets to the soldiers, he hesitates.]

FOURTH SOLDIER: If only we could embrace people like the others.

[The sound of weeping is heard.]

MUKHTAR: May God grant your souls peace.

SOLDIERS: To us you shall return…to us you shall return.

MUKHTAR: Farewell, farewell! (to the villagers) Let’s go with Our Lord’s blessing.

[Men and women burst into tears.]

PRODUCER (everything he says is reproduced on the stage, both images and sounds.  The movement is slow and deeply moving. The Producer’s voice sobs dramatically): They begin their departure: columns of oppressed humanity walking away with their heavy load of anger and pain. The progress is painful, accompanied by mournful music–napalm people, people who have turned into napalm. The initial chaos becomes more orderly, step by step, while the rhythm is established by the sad tone of the music. Napalm may disfigure bodies, but it also clarifies thought and will (a pause here). They exit with their heavy load of anger and pain. A muted mumbling sound can be heard in their ranks that turns into a chant whose rhythm intensifies along with the sad music. They broach the future along clear tracks, with no curves and no defeat. The music gets louder and louder until it melds into a powerful chorus. Slowly the curtain falls, ever so slowly.

PRODUCER (getting up abruptly from his seat and moving toward the audience, followed by the spotlight, while the author stays in the shadows): So that was my conception of this evening performance.

`ABD AL-GHANI (head lowered, in a muted tone): I shook my head.

[There is no conversation between the two of them. Instead each one keeps talking, totally oblivious of the other. They both address the audience; sometimes their remarks coincide, while at others there’s a gap. The Producer seems to be continually complaining about `Abd al-ghani’s comments.]

PRODUCER: He promised to think about it.

`ABD AL-GHANI: At first I was being sarcastic.

PRODUCER: He hesitated for a while, but then he accepted the idea.

`ABD AL-GHANI: I remember clearly being sarcastic at first.

PRODUCER: Based on that idea, he wrote the play, “Clarion of Souls,” that you’ve all come here tonight to watch.

`ABD AL-GHANI (he too gets up and moves toward the audience. He stands in a shady spot at the front of the stage, looking and sounding dismal):  That’s what happened. I accepted the idea and constructed the play, “Clarion of Souls,” around it.

PRODUCER: I acknowledge that it’s a fine play, even though it emphasizes the heroic aspect less than I would have liked.

`ABD AL-GHANI: Yes, but who on earth knows how? Right up till now, I have no idea… (A moment’s pause) When in life we go through a series of momentous events, everyone believes that things will all have changed afterwards: the earth tottering out of control through space, and mankind seeing its days transformed and its conditions turned upside down.

PRODUCER: He waited days and weeks before putting it all down, but eventually he did write it.

`ABD AL-GHANI (still using the same melancholy tone): After one of the raids, I went out into the quarter. I shuddered when I saw everything still in its proper place, people exchanging the usual chatter and doing what they normally do, and streets winding their way through the houses.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): We were carrying out instructions from above.

PRODUCER (raising his voice so as to squelch any uproar): He composed the play and placed it in our hands. We’ve got it ready as quickly as possible.

`ABD AL-GHANI: I hesitated for a long time, but then I told myself that maybe I was mistaken. Newspapers had not altered the way their columns were arranged, and writers had not changed their normal words. Ideas kept flowing uninterrupted as well…

PRODUCER: For the past three weeks we’ve been working night and day. We wanted this soiree of ours to be as momentous as the events we’ve been living through…

`ABD AL-GHANI: Maybe I’m wrong. I took my old words and started putting them together.

PRODUCER: If you had any idea of how much trouble we’ve had with this work.  Every single day there have been adjustments, but we’ve never complained. One of the actors almost lost his nerve, but we’ve not complained.

`ABD AL-GHANI: My words (shaking his head and raising his voice)…but I could smell their scent above the lines, a scent that reminds me of prostitute’s cunts. I said that maybe I’m wrong. Other people don’t smell the same scent while they’re using them…just the way they were before the events happened–no doubts or misgivings.

PRODUCER: But today we were struck by a piece of fiendish trickery. My entire body oozes sweat every time I recall today’s events.

`ABD AL-GHANI: But there’s still a stench that keeps sticking around. It’s  just like hurling garbage at people. That’s the way I’ve been feeling about the way words have come together.

PRODUCER: Oh dear! Maybe you won’t believe it, but it actually happened. Even in the current exceptional circumstances and in our homeland where theater is coming into its own, it happened. Mr. `Abd al-ghani al-Sha`ir showed up just a few hours before the show was supposed to begin and announced that he absolutely refused to have his play performed under any circumstances. Just imagine: he showed up just a matter of hours before the show was supposed to start. He then proceeded to threaten us all with all manner of idiocies.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): In which case, that was a good deed he performed!

So that’s the story!

It’s all folklore.

[A whistle from the back rows.]

They’re making fools of us, that’s for sure.

PRODUCER: Gentlemen, gentlemen! (He uses his hands to calm the audience down.)

`ABD AL-GHANI: Yes, that’s what actually happened. It was as if I were waking up from a prolonged stupor. I told myself that everyone needs to stop talking when there’s a foul stench in his mouth!

PRODUCER: We made every conceivable effort, but without success. We pleaded, but it was no use. What a day this has been! Everything’s gone wrong, a total contempt for art, for the public, the huge problem we’re struggling with. Needless to say, our august theater tradition will know how to avenge itself.

`ABD AL-GHANI (shaking his head and preparing to return to his seat): So who’s worried about that?

PRODUCER (continuing): We were like people drowning, doing our best to save what could be saved. With the time we still had left, we kept working as hard as we could. We’d already prepared the scenes that you’ve all watched.  Inevitably there were things wrong with it; we weren’t able to achieve the kind of artistic quality we really wanted. But at least by now you’ve realized the cogent forces that have beset our show; it’s just been a glimpse at the kind of thing we wanted to present. At that same time it’s a kind of simple apology, something we hope will satisfy you, so you won’t think too badly of us. (some stagehands now appear carrying chairs and music stands which they set up at the back left-hand corner of the stage). For sure we’re not going to finish things here. Now that you’ve learned about our situation and our original intentions, you certainly have a right to get some other kind of compensation, by which I mean some entertainment and amusement. The boards representing the village are still on the stage, and the empty square puts you in mind of ancient festivals. It is in this central square that our popular troupe is going to perform its show: country dancing and singing, nostalgia and delight in the very same place where heroism has been extolled.

`ABD AL-GHANI (speaking now from the hall): All’s well that ends well.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): That a traditional kind of ending.

At last here’s something amusing.

It’s all folklore!

PRODUCER: Gentlemen, gentlemen. (He waits till the noise dies down) I’m not going to bang your heads any more. Once again, please forgive me. Now I’m going to wish you all a dream-filled evening show full of songs and folk-dances.

[The light focused on the stage changes. Back left, where the chairs and music stands have been set up, musicians take their assigned places and start tuning up.

At the back of the hall, `Abd al-rahman, a man from the countryside wearing wheat-colored pants and a dark-brown jacket, stands up and puts his kaffiyeh and `iqal on his head. Even though his expression is humble enough, it still manages to convey a stubborn and bitter feeling that builds up in his eyes–like jet-black rocks. His voice comes across clear and simple. In spite of his apparent hesitation, he seems to be well aware of what he’s going to say.]

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (from the hall): Good grief. Esteemed Sir, what’s the name of this village supposed to be?

[Heads turn in his direction. A young man who is his son, `Izzat, does his best to pull his father back by the sleeve and make him sit down again.]

SPECTATORS (guffawing): It’s all folklore!

Who knows how this is all going to end!

We were all involved in history, but now it’s turned into geography!

PRODUCER (who was about to leave the stage): What was that question you asked, Sir?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (emerging from the back rows, while his son still tries to pull him back): I was asking, esteemed Sir, what’s the name of this incredible village?

SPECTATORS (all at once): He wants to know the village’s name.

Name and location.

[`Abd al-rahman walks toward the stage.]

PRODUCER: Its name? Huh…what a question!

`IZZAT (still pulling his father back and talking to him in alarm): What are you trying to do, Father? This isn’t right.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Why, son? There’s nothing wrong with asking a question.

`IZZAT (as they keep getting closer to the stage): They were kind enough to invite us to the show. There are important folks here. It’s not proper…

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Who’s not acknowledging their kindness? I simply want to find out what’s the name of the village we’ve been watching. Who says there’s anything wrong with that? If you ask, `Izzat, you can find out; and, as they say, knowledge is light!

PRODUCER: Listen, this isn’t a precise village. It’s any one of our villages, or even all of them.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Excuse me. What I’m saying may be off target. I didn’t go to school; there weren’t any schools then. As you know, those times were very different from now. But, esteemed Sir, people will be assuming you know this village as one of its people. Maybe you were there when these momentous events took place.

PRODUCER: There when they took place? (angrily) This is a story!

SPECTATOR (from the hall): A fairy story.

`ABD Al-RAHMAN: But, esteemed Sir…

PRODUCER (interrupting him angrily): Stop calling me that!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (still talking modestly): Forgive me. I’m just an ignorant peasant. I don’t know the proper forms of address. How am I supposed to address you?

PRODUCER: Just say Sir, or anything else. In any case, we haven’t a lot of time to waste here. Don’t you hear the music? There’s a program we want to get going. What you’ve been watching is a story. As you’re aware, stories differ from reality.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: So you don’t know the village or the people who live there?

PRODUCER: Of course I don’t know them. It’s not a real village (now resorting to a phony kinder tone) Let’s stop this. We shouldn’t keep our guests waiting any longer. Let’s get on with the program.

[The musical instruments start playing; a song using the mijana melody takes shape and continues, forming the background to the action that continues.]

`IZZAT: Let’s go back to our seats.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (staying where he is): But it’s a story which has nothing to do with reality. By God Almighty, the whole thing boggles the mind.

`IZZAT: Father, this isn’t right!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (staring angrily at his son): Do you think I’m senile or something? For you to tell me what’s appropriate or not, that’s all that’s left! Gentlemen, if what I’m doing is somehow out of line, you can tell me so straight to my face. By God Almighty, when I watched what I’ve just seen, I couldn’t control my tears. I imagined I was looking at my own village. (looking behind him) Abu al-faraj, do you remember our village?

 ABU AL-FARAJ (from the back rows): What’s happened to us, `Abd al-rahman?!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Come up here and take a closer look.  You’d say it was the square of our own village, although the pond is a bit closer to the mosque-door.

ABU AL-FARAH (with a sigh): Yes, it’s just like our own village square.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Now it’s empty. Well, Abu al-faraj, we’ve lived a lot and seen a lot. Nights when the moonlight was as bright as the day. Esteemed Sir, night-time in our square was never to be forgotten. No more tiredness, no more cares. We… (he comes on to the stage with confident strides as though he is fully aware of what he is doing).

PRODUCER (protesting): Where are you going. What do you want?

`IZZAT: What are you doing?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (carrying on without paying any attention to his son): In summer we’d gather every evening and sit around the pond. The evening session would begin. Esteemed Sir, if you’d come to our village just once, you’d have wanted to keep on coming back for visits. It’s just a village; true enough, but it’s just like a resort. So, Abu al-faraj, when will we be going back for those magic evenings in our village square?

 ABU AL-FARAJ: Don’t add to our sorrows! God’s mercy is wide.

`IZZAT (following his father on to the stage): Father…

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Esteemed Sir, please excuse me. I ask the audience to forgive me if I’m doing something inappropriate. We’re people who’ve left their village. Our own village is just like this one, by God Almighty. It’s called Kafr `Aziz; I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. Come here, Abu al-faraj, come on!  I haven’t understood everything, but, unless I’m wrong….

`IZZAT (ashamed): Father, come down off the stage…

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (angrily): So, `Izzat, now you’ve gone even further; you’re my son, and here you are ordering me around?! Where’s any sense of upbringing and respect for parents? Abu al-faraj, do you see what’s going on? Our children have started interrupting us while we’re talking. If we were still in our village square, would such a thing be happening?

ABU AL-FARAJ (getting up and approaching the stage): What is there that hasn’t changed ever since we left our village square?

[These men and all the others who follow them are intruding on the stage. Even though the way they interrupt the performance may appear hesitant, it is nevertheless cogent. Their conversation is defiant, even though the Producer tries to ignore them or to protest.]

PRODUCER: Listen, this is unbelievable! You’re holding up the rest of the show.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: But, esteemed Sir…

PRODUCER (interrupting angrily): Good grief, are we back to ‘esteemed Sir’ again?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Forgive me. Anger is the work of the devil. I’m an old man who’s no good at talking. Don’t be so unkind. We’re the kind of folk who’ve abandoned their houses and livelihoods, just like the ones we’ve seen abandoning their villages. (with a sigh) What a huge difference! Have you seen, Abu al-faraj, how well organized they seem to be?

ABU AL-FARAJ (by now close to the stage): Oh yes, by God Almighty, I’ve seen!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: I keep on saying that, where we live, people will never learn what good order means as long as they live. Our voices get hoarse simply trying to get them organized, if only for a short while.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Thank God for keeping it under wraps.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: He deserves our praise every second, every minute. But on that particular day I never really believed we’d reach the stage we did.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Everyone can have their own opinion.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: And their own needs as well.

[This conversation between `Abd al-rahman and Abu al-faraj is a kind of continuous narrative divided up between two separate voices. It’s actually more of a monologue than a dialogue.]

ABU AL-FARAJ: And then there’s the women!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Bird-brains, the lot of them! One of them wanted to go back because she’d forgotten her son’s shirt, and another couldn’t remember whether or not she’d shut the window. We’d been going for three hours when Zaynab Amina wanted to go back and see about the window. After that no one could convince her to shut up and keep walking.

ABU AL-FARAJ (Comes on to the stage. The Producer approaches him angrily. Even so, he carries on as before without hesitation): Then there’s Umm Muhammad Dalila, a wizened old woman with a brooding hen. She spent the entire time moaning and wailing about her hen. If I hadn’t hit her and forced her to keep on walking, she’d have gone back to the village for sure.

PRODUCER: No, no!  You’re abusing our tolerance here. What’s all that got to do with us? What stupid stories are you telling?

`ABD AL-GHANI (from the hall): This is terrific. Carry on!

SPECTATORS (from the hall): We want to hear their story.

What about the play?

These men are peasants, not dancers!

Carry on!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (talking to Abu al-faraj): The Producer’s yelling at us.

ABU AL-FARAJ: No one wants to hear our story.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: We’re strangers here, Abu al-Faraj!

ABU AL-FARAJ: We’ve nothing left.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: People don’t trust strangers who have nothing to call their own.

PRODUCER (trying to keep his own nerves under control): Please, gentlemen, go back to your seats.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Good heavens, have we said something wrong? (A pause) True enough, right now we’re strangers with nothing to our name. But we used to be part of a village like this one (pointing to the decor). Then God decreed that we had to leave it on a very hot day.

[The two monologues now continue even faster and more insistently. In spite of the Producer’s best efforts, even he gets sucked in. He completely fails to insert himself into their conversation. The music changes and gets quieter. Gradually the two men attract everyone’s attention.]

ABU AL-FARAJ: Do you still remember. Yes, by God, the sun was frying people’s heads. Everywhere was as hot as hell.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: There was no way of getting people together and organizing them.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Everybody did their own thing. One woman wanted to deal with her son, but he held back because he needed to be sick under a tree.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Women wailing and men taking bets as to how long or short the walk would be.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Kids screaming all around us, getting into scraps and fighting. Their families had to run after them.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Good God, there was almost a blood-bath over two of the boys.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Muhammad `Ali Daba. There’s a story about him and his donkey!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: God curse greed and the greedy!

ABU AL-FARAJ: His donkey was loaded with all the provisions he had in his house: flour, olive oil, and wheat-germ. Even the salt-jar and gas-canister. He left absolutely nothing behind.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: We all realized that the donkey was overloaded and wouldn’t be able to go very far before it collapsed.

ABU AL-FARAJ: In fact the poor donkey stumbled after just a few meters. Muhammad `Ali Daba got angry and cursed.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: We told him the load was too heavy; bringing everything from his house was a mistake.

ABU AL-FARAJ: He yelled back at us: ‘What’s it got to do with you? I haven’t bust my ribs in order to buy enough provisions for the entire army!’

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: He tried to divide up some of the load between himself and his wife, but it wasn’t long before exhaustion and the intense heat wore them both out.

ABU AL-FARAJ: He put it all back on the donkey, and it fell down again. By now he was so tired,  he realized he’d made a mistake by bringing everything from the house.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: He started discarding things on to the road. For him it would have felt easier to pull his own teeth out or wrench off his hands.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Eventually only the salt-jar was left. He was so angry that we were worried  he was going to rub the salt into his own eyes.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: But just then he started kicking his wife and the donkey.

ABU AL-FARAJ: If we hadn’t interfered and he had not been so exhausted, he would have done away with both of them. Eventually he burst into tears and said nothing else for the rest of the journey.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: That was a black day, we’re still living it.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Didn’t we believe that Abu `Ali al-`Izzati would go mad?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: He kept wailing like a woman. He was moaning about the way his house had been destroyed and remembering every single person who owed him money.

ABU AL-FARAJ: He grabbed Shaykh Ja`far’s copy of the Qur’an and made all his debtors swear to pay him back, even if it took a while.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Some of them did swear, but others refused. He was frothing at the mouth, and his eyes looked like pools of blood. There were several altercations. We may have been running away from fires, but we almost managed to start some of our own.

ABU AL-FARAJ: It’s so easy for men to start fighting, and so hard to get them to make peace later on!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (with a sigh): There’s no way to get people together and organize them.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Every time we moved forward, other groups joined us, with old folk and youngsters all yelling and screaming.

`ABD Al-RAHMAN: Al-Takharim, Al-Kafr, Al-Ruwaysa, Banu `Izz, the people from all those villages left them behind and squeezed panic-stricken on to narrow, muddy tracks.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Every new group brought with it wailing women and similar tales.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: There was no way of telling whether they were true or false–nightmarish visions inducing panic and terror.

ABU AL-FARAJ: The nightmare that the shaykh from Al-Takharim told was one I can believe. It certainly had a powerful effect on everyone.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: I ask God Almighty’s forgiveness! That was a nightmare with the ring of truth to it. He saw–O God, Your prayers on the Prophet!–the world in its vast entirety like a colorful and beautifully crafted dish of straw; the whole world like a dish of straw, God’s prayers for the Prophet! When he stretched his hand out to touch it, it burst into flames, and countless groups of worms started crawling across the dish’s surface. He was amazed. ‘We only ever see this many worms,’ he told himself, ‘on corpses.’ Just then a loud shriek rang out, and with a fearful ear he heard a voice that told him: ‘Shaykh,’ it said, ‘take a good look at what the world’s become.’ ‘God forgive us,’ he said to himself. Just then I saw the dish break into pieces; it wasn’t a dish, and there was no straw either.  Instead it was a spotted snake long enough to wrap around himself. O God, envelop us all in Your mercy! The worms started falling into deep crevices, yelling ‘Mercy, mercy!’ just like human beings.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: We were yelling the same things too, and we still are.

PRODUCER (almost in a daze as he yells): Is this ever going to end? I don’t want to be rude, but…enough! Go back to your seats.

[The music gets louder; it’s a long mawwal.]

ABU AL-FARAJ: Wherever we go, we’re greeted by angry voices.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: And frowning expressions.

ABU AL-FARAJ: We had no idea where we were going or what was going on around us.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: We left our homes and fields. We abandoned our fields at harvest time, when the stalks were ripe and our scythes were aching to cut them. We left it all behind.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Ah…every time I think of it, my heart wants to burst open like a fig.

[The Producer is getting more and more annoyed, but cannot find a way to interject himself.]

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: For an entire year we toiled, exhausted and sweating in our fields.  Isn’t that so, `Izzat?

`IZZAT (shyly): That’s right, Father.

ABU AL-FARAJ: We ploughed the soil, scattered the seeds, and tended them like our own children. In springtime the fields burst into green as though it were a feast-day. It was a wonderful season this year.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Some years the soil has not been as generous as it was this year. `Izzat, do you remember how the stalks were bent over, there was so much seed?

`IZZAT: Yes, I saw it for myself. But what’s the point, Father? By now our fields are far away.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Yes, far away, and we’ve no idea why!

ABU AL-FARAJ: What’s happened? What’s going on?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Good heavens, Abu al-faraj, how tricky the world is! There’s no way of understanding its ups and downs. No sooner do we sharpen our scythes to do the harvest than war breaks out.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Yes, war breaks out, but no one thinks about us or tell us what we’re supposed to do.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: If war were something we’re used to, then everything would be a lot easier. But war’s changed. It’s all baffling, and no one can make out what’s happening.

ABU AL-FARAJ: That’s right! The things we’ve learned about war are completely different!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Before there was a truce between us and the village of Al-Takharim, we hardly ever finished one war before starting a fresh one. People still tell each other stories about those conflicts right up to today, don’t they, Abu al-faraj?

ABU AL-FARAJ: They certainly do. But that was all very different. Men clustered behind their leader, then, carrying their sticks, they all made their way down the valley to face the enemy coming from the other direction.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Someone would yell out a challenge, and the fighting would start–man-to-man combat, with sticks colliding and clashing with each other.

ABU AL-FARAJ: But now…

PRODUCER (interrupting in fury): This is plain stupid. You’re turning the show into a farce. It was obviously a silly idea to invite you.

[They look at him with calm, sad expressions, but with no other reactions.]

SPECTATORS: For shame!

They’ve a right to speak.

It’s all folklore!

That’s a nasty way of talking!

ABU AL-FARAJ (continuing): All that’s left now is machines, some that fly, others that don’t.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Good grief! Explosions and fire. We lose all sense of direction.

ABU AL-FARAJ: The sky is split open, and the earth shakes.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: When a war like this starts and you don’t understand anything, all you can do is close up your house and leave with your family.

ABU AL-FARAJ: We left, but had no idea where we were going.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Every time we reached a town, we found the people had left before us.

PRODUCER: Oh my, what a day! We didn’t invite government officials to the show to listen to your silly stories.

ABU AL-FARAJ: While the roads we tramped were in flames, we came across lots of soldiers.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: They all looked exhausted and disoriented. Their clothes were soaked in sweat.

ABU AL-FARAJ: They were just like us, with no idea what was happening.

PRODUCER: No, no…we’re not going to spend the entire night listening to your nonsense.

[At this point, one of the people sitting in the front row turns round and gives a hand signal. A number of men stand up in the dark and make their way toward him. He says a few words to them, and they distribute themselves to spots beside the theater exits. Others station themselves in the aisles.]

`IZZAT (maintaining his shy posture as he joins the conversation): That’s right. The soldiers had no idea what was going on.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Some of them were telling stories that were obviously false. Good heavens! One of them went so far as to say that the enemy soldiers had wings and could fly like birds.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Another said that they weren’t really human at all, but machines made of metal. Walking, talking machines, with bullets that never missed.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: But some of them laughed when we asked them about such stories. One of them said he’d come back from the front without setting eyes on the enemy.

`IZZAT: And we saw other soldiers crying for sheer exasperation.

ABU Al-FARAJ: That’s right. They were sobbing like women.

`IZZAT: They’d been defeated, but they didn’t know why. Like us, they had no idea what was happening.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: We met other soldiers who were laughing, having a good time firing off the ammunition they had left.

ABU AL-FARAJ: They were taking bets to see who could hit rocks or tree trunks.

PRODUCER (yelling): This farce has got to stop!

SPECTATOR (to his companion): Do you hear that? They leave the front and make war on rocks and tree trunks!

ANOTHER SPECTATOR: Then they paint a portrait of their own victory on them!!

PRODUCER (obviously feeling that this is a moment when he can explode; in a threatening tone): Now you’re talking about soldiers. Don’t you know that our soldiers are the bravest in the entire world, much braver than a hundred soldiers of any other nation? In any case they’re worth a thousand times what trash like you are worth!

SPECTATOR: It’s not right for you to insult them like that!

SPECTATOR: Do you want us to applaud?!

PRODUCER (looking anxiously at the audience): Gentlemen, instead of helping me keep things on track, you’re only making the chaos worse. (He now speaks directly to the front row, softening his tone as he does so) I don’t know how best to apologize to you. What I was aiming for was to break down the drama, but not to reach this level of absurdity. But you’ll have noticed that I’m not one of the people here who has been in any way happy about what’s happened. (He goes back now, and addresses the people on the stage) Now kindly put a buckle on your stupid mouths and go back to your seats. (He claps as a cue to the musicians) Let’s begin.

[The music starts. A folkloric dance troupe appears. The members take their places on the stage and prepare to start their dance.]

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (stolid in his defiance, his tone of voice still simple, yet insistent): Good heavens, Abu al-Faraj, are we telling a pack of lies?!

ABU AL-FARAJ: May God cut out our tongues before we are accused of falsehood! But don’t forget that we’re strangers here. We own nothing.

`IZZAT (sadly): Let’s go back, Father. There’s no place for us here.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Song and dance, Izzat! That’s what they want.

`IZZAT: That’s right: song and dance.

PRODUCER: Don’t you understand plain words? Do you prefer force instead? What’s the story?

`ABD AL-GHANI (from the hall): Carry on! This is exactly what my own feeble imagination had in mind…

PRODUCER (gritting his teeth): I can hear your malice, `Abd al-ghani!!

SPECTATORS: Let them speak!

Huh, what a great time for song and dance!

The enemy is a mere stone’s throw away, and here he is offering us song and dance!

ABU Al-FARAJ: The only thing left for us, `Abd al-rahman, is to sing and dance as well!

[Two spectators get up and try to leave the theater. They come back, exchanging these words as they do so.]

FIRST: He says it’s forbidden.

SECOND: Why? We want to leave.

FIRST: I’ve never heard anything like it.

SECOND: In our country, it seems we must expect every possible kind of eventuality.

FIRST: I knew this soirée would not turn out well.

[The word “forbidden” is whispered among several spectators.]

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: The way they treat monkeys is worse.

`IZZAT: Monkeys with no land and no honor.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Did you realize, son, that we were coming to a song and dance show?

`IZZAT: I don’t know anything about it, Father. It would be best for us to go back to our seats.

PRODUCER: That’s right! That’s the best for you to do. Go on…!

ABU AL-FARAJ: You mean, to our tents which don’t protect us against cold at night and heat by day.

`IZZAT: We’ve no right to complain. They’ll say we weren’t living in mansions before those tents.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN:  But we did have homes, didn’t we, houses with foundations and roofs? Not only that, but the scent of our ancestors still wafts from their alcoves!

`IZZAT: Now those homes are far away, and the fields are still further.

ABU AL-FARAJ: The wheat…

PRODUCER: You devils! When’s this record going to end?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Is the wheat going to wither on its own land?

ABU AL-FARAJ: God knows!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Or will it be harvested by people who never sowed it in the first place or wore themselves out doing so?

ABU AL-FARAJ: God knows!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: If we pluck up the courage to ask some official what’s going to happen to our wheat, they laugh at our stupidity and yell at us.

ABU AL-FARAJ: They tell us they’ve more to worry about than our harvest.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: You and your harvest can go to hell, they say.

ABU AL-FARAJ: What do you expect. They didn’t sow the seeds or wear themselves out doing it.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (sighing after a pause): Good heavens! If only we know what was happening!’

ABU AL-FARAJ: How are we supposed to know. No one’s talking to us, or even coming close. The questions we have to ask are like thorns on our tongues.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Every since that day, we’ve been blindfolded, not seeing or knowing anything.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Wherever we’ve gone, we’ve been greeted with angry voices and frowning faces.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: And when we’ve got something to eat, it’s been blended with curses!

`IZZAT: Begging would be better!

ABU AL-FARAJ: You’re right, `Izzat, begging would certainly be better.

`ABD AL- RAHMAN: Fair enough, once in a while if there was no rain, we’d get hungry on our farms. There could be barren times on our land, but we never had our honor sullied.

ABU AL-FARAJ: What honor is left now? There was the time when we said that hell was preferable to staying, and they spat in our faces.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (bursting into tears): I wish my mother had never given birth to me. What waste of a life, when I’ve had people spit at me before I’m dead and buried.

`IZZAT (grabbing his father’s hand and holding its with a tender sorrow): Let’s go back to our seats, father!

PRODUCER (going over to `Izzat): You’re obviously a young man who understands. Please take them back, and let’s be done with this!

[`Izzat stares vacantly at him.]

ABU AL-FARAJ: So…this is the way things go with people who left their villages on that searing hot day. Disease reduced our numbers, and every day brought fresh insults.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Because we’re strangers with nothing to our name, they assume that all our senses are moribund.

ABU AL-FARAJ: That’s the way things go. We can’t stay here, and we can’t go back either.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: In those tents that cannot handle either heat or cold, the questions pile up, but there’s no response.

ABU Al-FARAJ: What’s happening? What’s going to happen?

[By now, the Producer has lost all patience and signals to the troupe. Popular music now gets louder, and people start moving their feet.]

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Everyone around us is singing and dancing.

ABU AL-FARAJ: That’s the way things work for people who left their villages on that searing hot day.

SPECTATOR (who gets up in the middle of the hall. He is portly, wears spectacles, and sounds angry): Why did you leave? (adjusting his tone of voice) We can understand your predicament; it can’t have been easy. But why did you leave before the fighting started?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Why did we leave?

`IZZAT (as though talking to himself): The meaning’s clear enough, but it’s not the first time we’ve heard those words.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (talking as the Spectator leaves his row and moves toward the stage): Good grief! If they’d been in our shoes, wouldn’t they have left too? What could we do?

PRODUCER (spotting the Spectator approaching the stage and standing threateningly in his way): No, no, Sir! Please. This is total chaos, and we can’t allow it. Drama has its rules that need to be respected.

SPECTATOR (calmly): Excuse me. These are questions that need to be asked.

PRODUCER: No, no. You can ask them somewhere else. We’ve had quiet enough disruption for one day.

SPECTATOR: I can appreciate your position. I realize that spectators usually keep their mouths shut. But, as you can see for yourself…in spite of all your dogged efforts, the ulcer’s still festering. That’s something we can’t ignore.

PRODUCER (angrily): What ulcer? What’s festering? It’s simply chaos and rowdy behavior. Don’t make things even worse! Please go back to your seat, and you others as well. You’ve been prattling on enough for an entire city! We’ve a program to get through.

SPECTATOR: Stop trying to suppress things, now that everything’s out in the open. These are crucial issues, and it’s much more important to explore them.

PRODUCER: Crucial issues? They’re just stupid trivialities. Let us continue, Sir. The troupe’s all ready, and we’re ashamed to keep blaming our guests.

SPECTATOR: All the things we’ve been through, are they just stupid trivialities?

PRODUCER: Don’t drag me into an argument here. You’re simply wasting our time, just like the others. Now, before everyone in the audience runs out of patience, please go back and sit in your seat so you can see how excellent the folk-dance is going to be.

[The dance-troupe is still trying to start dancing.]

SPECTATOR (raising his voice): You and your folk-dance troupe. For shame! Do you seriously think that we’re only interested in an hour of folk-dancing? Take your folk-dancers to another country where there are no problems! Once there you can settle down and cheer everyone up! But we’re currently living in a country with tents for homes.  People have left their farms behind without knowing why. The ulcer is still festering, and the mijana dance won’t cauterize it. (He comes up on to the stage and goes over to the other group) Yes, I’m asking you why you left your farms behind.

PRODUCER (astonished): What’s this. What’s going on? How about a bit of courtesy here?  Are we still in charge of the stage or not?

[The music intensifies, then stops altogether. The dance-troupe stops its movements.]

SPECTATOR (looking at him dispassionately): Try just once to be a spectator. That’ll teach you how to live.

PRODUCER: God Almighty! So we’ve no choice.

SPECTATOR.  Just leave us alone and listen. (To the group) So once again I’m asking you why you abandoned your village.

[Words now fail the Producer, almost as though the Spectator’s dominant tone of voice has come to him as a shock. He continues to scowl, while he stares around him in despair.)

`IZZAT (sounding distracted): That’s the very question everyone keeps asking.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Good heavens! What did they expect us to do? Once the fighting started, how could we stay?

SPECTATOR: Why couldn’t you stay?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (hesitantly): Because…er…because the fighting started.

`IZZAT: And who’s supposed to know that you have to stay behind when war starts?

PRODUCER (trying to get involved once again and resorting to a kinder tone of voice): Now then, brothers…

[They pay him no attention. The conversation continues.]

ABU AL-FARAJ: There’s no one to offer us advice, and we’ve no idea what to do.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: We listen to [Yusuf `Abd al-Hadi on][21] the radio, but we don’t stand what he’s saying.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): That implies that what he’s saying is understandable!

ANOTHER SPECTATOR (from the hall): We’re all in the same boat on that score!

SPECTATOR: Even so, you knew that foreigners were invading your homeland. At least that’s clear enough.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: The fighting started. That’s all we knew.

ABU AL-FARAJ: War’s different now…

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Ah me!  In our day there was no confusion; things weren’t kept secret. Before God brought about a truce between us and Al-Takharim, things were totally different. One of the village elders stood up and addressed us; we understood what he was talking about. He explained what the villagers of Al-Takharim had done in clear words, and we understood him. ‘Listen, you people of Kafr `Azuz.’ That’s the way he addressed us. ‘The villagers of Al-Takharim have assaulted our women gathering firewood, grabbed their scythes, and prevented them from collecting any more wood. That’s the kind of insult that no real man can accept; not only that, but it’s not right. What do you all say? In the long run that’s what matters.’

ABU AL-FARAJ: Yes indeed. We all responded with one voice. We’d be women if we let that happen.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: With that he yelled at us to grab our sticks and head down the valley. We’d see if the men of Al-Takharim were under the impression that our women had no men behind them. We kept waving our sticks in the air and yelling angry taunts. We went down the valley to confront the men of Al-Takharim; we were no cowards, and the thought of fighting didn’t scare us either. Were we ever scared of fighting, Abu al-Faraj?

ABU AL-FARAJ: Good heavens no!  We never ran away, and no hand clasping a stick ever wavered.  But that was all so utterly different…

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Now, no one brings us together; no one visits us to explain what’s going on. Has anyone ever visited us?

PRODUCER: Listen, brothers…

[They’re not listening to him. The conversation continues.]

ABU AL-FARAJ: No one ever visits poor people like us.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Don’t forget the gendarmes!

ANOTHER SPECTATOR (from the hall): Not to mention tax-collectors!

`IZZAT (as though he’s dreaming): The one evening a real man did visit us. After greeting us, he said he was hungry.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: You always think about that visit, don’t you?

`IZZAT: How can I ever forget it? (His eyes glisten as he acts out the story of the man’s visit, simply but with great intensity) He was a real man, and yet simple. He didn’t have a lot to say, but, when he started talking, it was amazing. He knocked on the door and came inside. After just a short while, he felt like one of us, like a relative or neighbor paying a visit.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: He blessed our food and ate some of it. He blessed our water as well, and then drank some.

`IZZAT: He was carrying a rifle, as though he had come from far away. Even though his face was etched with sheer exhaustion, what he wanted was clear enough.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: He was carrying a rifle like a soldier, but he wasn’t wearing an army uniform. He was different from soldiers.

`IZZAT: He soon became one of us. He told us he was a farmer, just like all of us, loving the smell of animals, grass, and muddy cattle pens. He told us how raiders from across the seas had stolen his house from him, and then the government had prevented him getting his revenge. ‘They’re turning us all into indigents,’ he said, ‘so we’ll grow weak and they can control and humiliate us because we’re so feeble.’ What he said was very clear. He knew what we had to do.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: When someone’s house gets stolen, he has to go after it.

`IZZAT: Anyone who stops me going after my house has an encounter with a thief.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Let’s open our eyes. There are loads of thieves.

`IZZAT: And even more people protecting the thieves…

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: They the ones making us indigent and hungry, turning us into a bunch of animals who don’t know their East from their West. They’re the ones who keep us humiliated with their regime. They’re some of the thief-protectors.

`IZZAT: How rare it is to find judges who are fair!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: The fairest judge is someone who can reclaim the rights he has lost.

`IZZAT: The man clasped his rifle as though it were his only son. That’s what he told us, and we understood him

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: He was carrying a rifle like a soldier, but he wasn’t wearing an army uniform. He was different from soldiers.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Oh yes!  Now I remember you telling me the story of this amazing visitor.

`IZZAT (his voice still dreamy and intense): A real man. His expression was fierce, but he still had eyes as clear as springs. You had the feeling that once in a while life would be changing. He passed through one evening, just like a cloud, and I felt drawn to him. I wanted to become his companion or shadow. He told us that, provided the rapacious thieves didn’t kill him on one of his operations, he’d come back to us…But he never came back to visit us, he didn’t return.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: He was the only one to visit us.

ABU AL-FARAJ: No one told us what we were supposed to do.

SPECTATOR (gruffly): So here was someone telling you what you needed to do.

IZZAT: One man only. He visited us just once, like a passing cloud, but never came back.

ABU AL-FARAJ: As if that’s not enough, `Abd al-rahman, now we’re being blamed.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Good grief! It’s war, and it’s not the way it used to be. What do they want us to do?

SPECTATOR: To stay with your land and defend it.

ANOTHER SPECTATOR (from the hall): Don’t you think you’re exaggerating?

PRODUCER (recovering his voice and sounding threatening): Listen, brothers…

ABU AL-FARAJ: Is it even possible to stay once the fighting starts?

SPECTATOR: Why isn’t it possible? I know of farmers and indigent folk in distant lands who’ve put up a fight against enemies who are stronger than the ones attacking us. What do you suppose they’re doing?

ANOTHER SPECTATOR: He’s talking about the Vietnamese.

SEVERAL SPECTATORS (talking from the hall as though in unison): What have we got to do with the Vietnamese?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: We never hear any stories about countries far away.

SPECTATOR: So listen now to the things that the farmers and indigent people in that far off land have been doing.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN and ABU AL-FARAJ (together): So what do those farmers and indigents do?

SPECTATOR: They bind their bodies to the soil and take root. They turn rocks into devils and soil into snakes.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN and ABU AL-FARAJ (together): Devils out of rocks? Snakes out of soil?

SPECTATOR: They die in their hundreds…thousands. But they still hold on to their land.  Because of them the greatest power on earth is left shaking.

ANOTHER SPECTATOR: He’s talking about the Vietnamese.

SEVERAL SPECTATORS (talking from the hall as though in unison): What have we got to do with the Vietnamese?

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: They all do it without anyone telling them what they need to do.

ABU AL-FARAJ: And without knowing what’s happening.

`IZZAT (still dreamily): If only other men had come to visit us. If only that man had come back.

SPECTATOR: None of this can justify abandoning your villages even before the fighting started.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): This is what they call philosophizing.

[He gets up from his seat and moves toward the stage. From now on, the Spectators will be identified by number: Spectator 1, Spectator 2, and so on.]

PRODUCER: Utterly uncouth and inappropriate behavior, that’s what I call it.

SPECTATOR 1: Who calls it philosophizing?

PRODUCER (seeing the other man approaching the stage): And where are you going, pray?

SPECTATOR 2: I’m the one who called it that.

SPECTATOR 1: Why should it be philosophizing? Like everyone else, they’re responsible for what’s happening to them.

PRODUCER (exploding in rage as the Second Spectator comes on to the stage): Where are you going? Where are you going? Has the stage turned into a public forum? Have you forgotten where you are? One outrage after another! Everyone wants to spill his guts in front of us, it seems.  This isn’t a guts exhibition, you know, nor muscles either! (To the troupe) Get started! (The members of the troupe look at each other in confusion) I said, start! If you let them, they’re going to crank out words all night! (He claps his hands) The music has to start! (The musicians are hesitant too, and a few segments of melody emerge from different instruments) Music…I prefer what you have to offer.

[After a short pause the musicians get their act together. A noisy dabke dance melody is heard The dance troupe starts its routine, although, needless to say, the fact that other people are on the stage cramps their movements.]

PRODUCER: Gentlemen, vacate the stage for our troupe. Please go back to your seats.

[The popular melody has a clear, strong beat. The troupe begins to coalesce, while `Abd al-rahman, Abu al-faraj, and `Izzat all stare at them with vacant expressions which only manage to reflect the wan shadows of a profound sense of grief. For a while the others on stage are taken in by the spectacle, but then the first Spectator adopts a furious expression. As the troupe of dancers approaches him, he yells at them.]

SPECTATOR 1: Stop! (The troupe looks worried)

PRODUCER: No…

SPECTATOR 1: Stop! This is shameful. (The troupe is confused and stops dancing. The music also becomes disorganized and gradually fades away). This is a disgrace. How can you dance? How can you possibly agree to dance?

A MEMBER OF THE TROUPE (in a neutral tone): We’re government employees.

SECOND MEMBER (equally neutral): We’re just doing our job.

PRODUCER (at the same time, upset): No, no! Let them continue. I’m the one to give orders around here, not you!

SPECTATOR 1 (ignoring the Producer and turning toward the troupe): Whatever the case may be, our conversation concerns you as well.

FIRST MEMBER: Don’t forget that we’re government employees. That’s how we make a living.

SECOND MEMBER: Come on, dance!

MEMBERS OF THE TROUPE: We are dancing.

SECOND MEMBER: Don’t dance.

MEMBERS OF THE TROUPE: OK, let’s not.

[They go back to their former position on the stage.]

SPECTATOR 1: That’s disgraceful!

PRODUCER: It certainly is. Next thing, we’re going to get shoved off the stage.

SPECTATOR 2: Be logical! We have a right to speak.

PRODUCER: Am I someone who is incapable of speech?! (Gruffly) No, no, you don’t have the right to speak. The stage is ours, and the seats in the theater are yours. That’s the most basic form of logic.

SPECTATOR 1: As I’ve told you before, just try to put yourself in the spectator’s shoes. You’ll find out a great deal of stuff that you don’t know.

[A man and woman stand up in another row and head for the exit. The man whispers that it was a waste of time leaving their home.]

PRODUCER (angrily): Are you giving me instructions? Are you making me give up my function? I’m in charge here. Do you hear me? Here I’m the one who gives the orders.

SPECTATOR 1 (he is angry too): And what about us? Are we supposed to be puppets in your hands? We’re all crammed into this small hall here. The doors are locked, the windows are shut, the lights have been turned off. And then you expect us to sit here and watch the illusions and fantasies you’ve dreamed up.

PRODUCER (moves toward him threateningly): OK, there are limits to everything.

SPECTATOR 1: Yes indeed, there are limits. Stop interrupting us.

SPECTATOR 2: At the very least, these men have had enough courage to bleed before our very eyes.

[The man and woman return to their seats, exchanging words in a low but audible voice.  Needless to say, the conversation on the stage continues with no interruption.]

WOMAN: Good God, that’s amazing! That means that we’re being forced to stay.

MAN: Don’t raise your voice.

WOMAN: Why? Is this a theater we’ve come to or a prison?

MAN: Who knows. Let’s sit down again.

[That word “prison” gets whispered by a number of spectators.]

SPECTATOR 1: When something genuine appears and it’s possible to talk about our real situation, here you are proposing that we sit and watch a song and dance routine.

SPECTATOR 2: Is it all supposed to keep these men’s bitter suffering a secret?

SPECTATORS (from the hall): He wants to celebrate the victory!

You can do that in the wings!

It’s all folklore!

SPECTATOR 1: We’ve said clearly that we don’t want any song and dance.

SPECTATORS: We don’t want it.

The enemy’s song and dance routine has been quite enough for us!

[The Producer is flummoxed. He keeps looking angrily at the people on stage and then at the audience.]

Why don’t we take a short break?

Go and take your break with them!

We need to continue the conversation.

PRODUCER: But…

SPECTATOR 1: We’ll continue then. We have the right to complete the evening’s entertainment in the way we want.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): That’s our right!

Indeed!

Why not? Are we going to have the beginning and ending imposed on us like this?

PRODUCER (so flustered, he cannot formulate the words): B-b-but…

SPECTATOR 1 (speaking fast): You can join in the discussion if you like.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): He doesn’t discuss anything.

He just gives instructions.

[A whistle from the back rows.]

PRODUCER (distraught, and almost falling apart): Discussion and bickering are not part of our program.

SPECTATOR 1: OK then, forget about it and listen.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): But he’s in charge.

PRODUCER: Yes indeed, I am. I…

SPECTATOR (from the hall, interrupting him ): Just calm down and let them speak.

PRODUCER: Inconceivable, utterly inconceivable!

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Calm down.

ANOTHER SPECTATOR (from the hall): You’ve bothered us enough tonight already.

PRODUCER (at his wits’ end, not knowing how to react; he moves over to the troupe): Have we ever witnessed anything like this in our professional careers?

[The members of the troupe stare vacantly at him, but there’s no response.]

SPECTATOR 1 (to no. 2): It’s no use. Let’s just leave him and go back to the question.

SPECTATOR 2 (perking up): The question!

SPECTATOR 1: What kind of philosophizing do you notice in what I’m saying?

SPECTATOR 2: Damn! I’ve lost my chain of thought. (Pause) Yes…actually I can’t see why you’re being so cruel to them unless it’s actually a deep sigh emerging from some kind of suppressed bitterness on your part.

SPECTATOR 1: Bitterness, fury, and a lingering internal sense of being suffocated–it’s all those. But I’m talking about something more far-reaching than that. If we’ve been supposed to indulge in a game of self-justification, then it’s supremely easy to find an excuse for any action.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (in a quiet neutral tone of voice): They’re talking about us, Abu al-faraj!

ABU AL-FARAJ: Yes, about us.

SPECTATOR 2: If self-justification’s a game, then so is condemnation and indeed the question itself. Did you listen to what they were saying? Their situation’s clear enough, and so are their circumstances. In the simplest of terms they’ve managed to dig up that truth over which our own crippled existence stands quivering. They’ve dug it up and hurled it in our faces. A total and complete truth that transcends questions and tricks of condemnation.

SPECTATOR 1: The truth does not rule out the notion of responsibility. If a single village had stood firm, many things would have turned out differently. But they all left their homes before the fighting even started. They left lands, homes, and cities to the enemy, places with no people. That implies a significant truth; like dirty armpits, it stinks.

SPECTATOR 2: It’s naive of us to expect anything else from them. You heard what they’ve said. Their words are as clear as day, with no shades of grey. What they know of war is fighting with sticks, ancient village feuds. They’re all isolated in their villages, and no one ever visits them. They’ve no idea what’s going on in the world around them. They live lives of poverty, ignorance, and a lengthy heritage of agony and humiliation. How can we expect anything else of them?

`ABD Al-RAHMAN (the same neutral tone): They’re talking about us, Abu al-faraj.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Yes, about us.

SPECTATOR 1 (at the same time): Those other people are poor farmers too. If bombs burn their rice, they go hungry.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): The Vietnamese!

SEVERAL SPECTATORS (almost in unison):What have we got to do with the Vietnamese?

SPECTATOR 2: But they’re not strangers on their own land. They may live on isolated islands, but they’re not simply numbers scattered in tattered public records.

SPECTATOR 3 (from the hall): They’re not insects, ants and worms creeping across the land.

[He gets up and stands in the aisle.]

SPECTATOR 4 (from the hall): They’re not animals either, to be fed on grass and fond hopes!

[He too gets up and stands in the aisle.]

PRODUCER (baffled, talking to the members of the troupe): Do you see what’s happening.  Outrageous! No, no, we won’t let them…

[The participation of the Spectators in the discussion comes in waves, almost like explosions. The conversation draws them in, and the sequence of events encourages even more to get involved. They overcome their own internal caution and go along with the inspiration that the ever-growing movement arouses in them, a movement whose momentum is now unstoppable.

Everyone turns in amazement to the new set of speakers who leap out of their seats and distribute themselves in the aisles. There’s sudden sense of alarm, coupled with a breathless mood.]

SPECTATOR 3 (continuing in an angry tone): Farmers and poor folk carry weight.

SPECTATOR 4: Out there farmers and poor folk have their own country, and it’s theirs.

SPECTATOR 3: They plant themselves in the land because it’s theirs.

SPECTATOR 4: They blend with the soil because they have an identity.

SPECTATOR 5: Because they know they have an identity.

PRODUCER (like a madman): Ayyy! It’s getting worse by the minute!

SPECTATOR: They don’t have tanks as commanders…

SPECTATOR 4: No castles to mount their guns. Their balconies serve for keeping a watchful eye on things.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Watch out. That’s dangerous stuff you’re talking about…

SPECTATOR 5: They learn how to move and how the world moves around them.

SPECTATOR 3: Yes, they learn as the bombs are dropping.

SPECTATOR 5: It’s in the earth’s cracks that they learn.

SPECTATOR 4: Their teachers aren’t crooks, and they don’t divulge their knowledge.

SPECTATOR 6: No lying broadcasts and stupid newspapers.

SPECTATOR 5: They’re not ignorant either, nor are they corrupt merchants.

SPECTATOR 2 (pointing at the men who have just spoken): So here we are: the difference between here and there. You’ve all heard. Just like us, you’ve heard them describing the time they’re living in and the miserable exile they endure. Now a series of events, wider and greater than any of them, has suddenly beset them. They’re ignored, cast out, and no one gives them a thing. People don’t even remember they exist until they want to exploit them for something.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (the same neutral tone): They’re talking about us, Abu al-faraj.

ABU AL-FARAJ: Yes, about us.

`IZZAT: Teachers came to our village school; every year one came. We had teacher `Abd al-hafiz, Teacher Muhammad, and Teacher Ibrahim, but none of them liked living with us.

ABU AL-FARAJ: We’d give them the best room in the whole village and make them presents of everything we had.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: We’d invite them into our homes, welcome them at our assemblies, and honor them like gendarmes.

`IZZAT (with a sad, vacant expression): But none of them liked our homes or assemblies. They rarely spoke to us. They regularly cursed the people who sent them to our village and begged to be transferred somewhere else. They were always going somewhere.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (trying to digress): There was one occasion…

SPECTATOR 1 (interrupting him in a harsh tone): But these are all useless details. They’re not worth talking about when we’re discussing the disaster we’re living through now.

SPECTATOR 2: If ignorance can be called details!

SPECTATOR 3: And poverty.

SPECTATOR 5: And exile.

SPECTATOR 4: And daily oppression.

SPECTATOR 2: So then, what’s left as a basis?

SPECTATOR 1 (plunges in): What’s basic is that a rapacious enemy has declared war on us and invaded our territories. They’ve discovered that our country had its legs as wide open as some ancient hag. People have abandoned the land more easily than the time it takes to pee and run away. No sense of pride–or at least some basic instinct of that kind. So no…if we want, we can always come up with a way of avoiding responsibility. They’re responsible, and so is everyone.

SPECTATOR 2: Making each other responsible is easy enough; or at any rate it’s easier than trying to understand.

SPECTATOR 4 (angrily): And what about you? What did you do, for heaven’s sake?  Where were you at that time? I imagine you weren’t in one of the villages at the front. I suppose you don’t eat onions and bread twice a day.  After lunch I assume you read theoretical works about revolutions and peoples, then settle down for a siesta full of rosy dreams about revolutions and peoples. Do I have things wrong?

[The Spectators who have been standing in the aisles now come up on to the stage. The entire theater hall now comes to resemble a genuine meeting-place. The man sitting in a front row signals to one of the men guarding the doors. He whispers a few words, and other men start distributing themselves around the hall. Once again, a Spectator tries to leave, but comes back, saying ‘That’s weird!”

The conversation on the stage continues with no break.]

PRODUCER: Let’s do something. Yes indeed, we have to do something…

SPECTATOR 1 (gruffly, as though his anger is only partially suppressed): Yes indeed, I’m just like that: one of those people who reads theoretical books about revolutions and peoples, someone who wasn’t in one of the villages at the front, and who does have rosy dreams. I’m like them, so just see how I look at things: I’m part of their flight, so are you, so are all of us. We’re the process of fleeing personified. That’s my opinion. They’re a reflection of my own face in the mirror; I oppose that face in the mirror; I feel my own shame in the mirror. I’m responsible, so are you, so are we all. This time no one can escape the responsibility.

SPECTATORS (from the hall, all at the same time): Responsibility?

That’s the truth!

What a dreadful discussion!

It’s as though he’s judging history itself.

Some kind of song and dance number would be better than never-ending argument.

Why are we responsible?

SPECTATOR 3: We’re all responsible.

SPECTATOR 2 (in a mechanical tone): Are we really responsible?

SPECTATOR 2 (like an echo): Are we really responsible?

SPECTATOR 1 (in the same gruff tone): The answer to that question shouldn’t provoke any disagreement.

SPECTATOR 4: We’re all responsible. That’s one of those splendid aphorisms you can fill your mouth with whenever you talk, but that’s all.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): The action’s all theirs, and the consequences fall on us!

PRODUCER (utterly lost): And what about ruining this evening? Who’s responsible for that, if not you?

SPECTATOR 2 (still distracted): So now we’re to be accused. Are we really responsible?

SPECTATOR 5 (like an echo): Are we really responsible?

SPECTATOR 2 (leaping up as though he’s made a decision and motioning vigorously.  He acts out what he’s saying): It’s a mirror, you say… Fine…Let’s set up a mirror in front of us, right here…(he draws a rectangle in the air). We’ll put it right in front of us. A large mirror big enough for our purposes…we’ll stare deep into its recesses. We’ll be looking really hard. (turning to the audience) In order for us to take on the responsibility, we have to be present and have an image in the mirror. Fine…Are we here?

SPECTATOR 3: That’s an essential question. Do we actually exist?

SPECTATOR 1: That’s not the essential question. The real issue is: what kind of existence?

SPECTATOR 2: Don’t answer too fast, or else you’ll overlook the most important questions.[22]

SPECTATOR 1 (angrily): So let’s admit it: we run away…we slink away from a foul stench that’s oozing between us and all around us.

SPECTATOR 2: Before we throw the rule-book at ourselves, it’s crucial that we know who we are. Here’s the woman (once again he traces the rectangle in the air). Come on, let’s ask her who we are! (Spectators 3, 4, 5, and 6 join in the game. They act out staring at the woman) Let’s check deep inside her, in every nook and cranny. Let’s ask who we are.

SPECTATORS 3, 4, and 5 (in unison): Right…who are we?

SPECTATOR 2: That question was around before the defeat. All the defeat did was to brush the dust off it, that’s all. (Going back to the game) Let’s look in the mirror and question its smooth surface relentlessly: who are we? At the very base, the bottom, in every nook and cranny…There…stare hard. (After a pause, he suddenly bursts out, distracting the others playing the game) Don’t tire your eyes. You won’t see anything. There’s nothing in the mirror: no face, no image.

SPECTATORS 3, 4, and 5 (like an echo): There’s nothing in the mirror.

SPECTATOR 2: Absolutely nothing, but do you know why?

SPECTATORS 3, and 5 (together, along with others from the hall): Why?

SPECTATOR 2: Because our images have all been erased.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): Erased? Our images erased?

SPECTATOR 2: Yes, erased by national interest before they could even take shape or become visible. I’ll tell you how that came about.

SPECTATORS 4, 5, and 6: How did it come about?

SPECTATOR (from the hall): What are you saying?  Be careful!

ANOTHER SPECTATOR (from the hall at the same time): Words cost more than silence, you know!

SPECTATOR 2 (continuing regardless): It’s happened year after year. (A new game. He starts acting it out in a commanding tone) No talking! Tongues lead you astray; words are a trap. Cut out your tongues in the national interest.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Cutting your tongue out is the safest solution!

SPECTATOR 6: We’ve cut our tongues out.

SPECTATOR 1: Why have we done that?

SPECTATOR: Supposing we didn’t do it, you shouldn’t forget that the national interest has prisons where the sun never reaches even once a year.

SPECTATOR 4: So then, we’re millions of severed tongues piling up behind closed doors, closed mouths, and closed toilets.

PRODUCER (going crazy): Do you see? Do you see where we’ve finished up?!

[The segments that follow are more collective; there’s a kind of rhythm to their sequence.]

SPECTATOR 2: The ear can lead you astray; the voice is a trap. For the sake of the national interest, only listen to what we tell you.

SPECTATORS 3, 4, 5, and 6, along with others[23] from the hall (all together): We’ve blocked our ears so we can only hear what they tell us.

SPECTATOR 1 (even more angrily): And why have we blocked our ears?

GROUP: Suppose we didn’t, you shouldn’t forget that the national interest has prisons where the sun never reaches even once a year.

SPECTATOR 4: So we’re millions of blocked ears only hearing one single word, one expression.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): No, you mean one pack of lies!

One load of nonsense.

One pile of tripe.

PRODUCER: This is awful, what’s happening here.

[The conversation accelerates and is continuous. The spectators keep up a relentless pressure.]

SPECTATOR 2: Thoughts can lead you astray; the mind’s a trap. For the sake of the national interest, get rid of your minds.

GROUP: We’ve got rid of our minds.

SPECTATOR 1: But why? Why did we get rid of our minds?

GROUP: Suppose we didn’t, you shouldn’t forget that the national interest has prisons where the sun never reaches even once a year.

SPECTATOR 4: So we’re millions of minds discarded in the closets of people’s houses, in empty wastes, on dead sidewalks.

SPECTATOR 2: That’s the way people talk about meddling, about eyes and noses.

SPECTATOR 4: Let the questions fester inside your mouth, but don’t ever ask them.

SPECTATOR 5: Don’t ever look around you or poke your nose into things that don’t concern you.

PRODUCER: What a scandal!

SPECTATOR 2: Questions are a trap and looking is a trap. So what’s left of an image where tongue, nose, eyes, ears, and thought processes have all been eliminated?

SPECTATOR 4: A wan shadow where you can’t make out shape or details.

SPECTATOR 2: That’s our existence. Let’s set up the mirror and look deep inside it, in every nook and cranny. Nothing. There it stays, a faded relic on the neck of national interest.

PRODUCER: How can such foul words be used in my hall? What a huge scandal!

SPECTATOR 1: No people can simply turn into a pale shadow!

SPECTATOR 2: That may be, but that’s all we’ve got left of our rights.

SPECTATOR 4: Of course, there’s also going out to cafes, prayer, black tea, tobacco, backgammon, and card-games.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): Don’t forget hashish!

And listening to mournful songs.

And procreating too!

SPECTATOR 3: But those are just some of the ways they have of leaving us with no rights, so that we’re just erased images.

PRODUCER: Do you hear the things they’re saying? See what our show has turned into?

SPECTATOR 2: Erased images scattered over the earth, like limitless clouds in the sky.  Torn to shreds, we’re treated by events the same way as winds do with clouds. That’s what our existence is, like jelly or a lie, with no roots to it and no branches in the air where things can open and bloom. The hours go by with the world spinning around us, but like all nightmares it’s all scrambled and vague. Our history’s a burden we carry, and the earth heaves and sways beneath our feet. What kind of bonds to the earth are these that we proceed to erase every instant? The earth becomes a fairy-tale; geography’s a fairy-tale too.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Geography…yes indeed, geography. Good God, it’s incredible for you to be talking about geography!

PRODUCER: Things are going to get very bad if we let you carry on like this. I smell a vile stench here. They’re a threat to security and public safety. We’ll start all over again, whatever the cost. (He claps) Music!

[While the Producer is talking, an old man with sunken features reaches the stage. His shabby appearance makes it clear that he’s had a hard life. He walks slowly and unsteadily.]

PRODUCER (losing his nerve): I’m asking for music. Can’t you hear?!

[A few isolated scales on the lute.]

SPECTATOR (from the hall): So now we’re back to the song and dance routine.

PRODUCER (to the troupe): Get ready. This time we’re not going to give way.

[A drum sounds out rhythms. The music is out of time and soft.]

OLD MAN (hesitating and about to go back to his seat): I was thinking it might be time for me to tell you a short story I happen to know. But it looks as though I’m crashing in at an inappropriate moment. Never mind, never mind…

SPECTATOR 3: No, old man, tell us your story.

[The lute-player stops playing.]

PRODUCER: What’s got into all of you?

SPECTATOR 4: For the first time everyone has to tell their story.

`ABD ABD-GHANI (from the hall): Tell your stories…go on, tell them. They’re much more creative than the things our feeble imaginations can come up with…!

PRODUCER: Do you see? If our hands are tied like this, the entire audience will finish up on the stage. Start playing and don’t bother about them.

[The Spectators standing on the stage follow the Producer’s actions with expressions full of contempt.]

SPECTATOR 5: When tongues start sprouting in our mouths, just see how quickly they all rush to rip them out!

PRODUCER: We’re all going to be participants in this civil disobedience if we don’t put an end to it. What are you waiting for?

MUSICIAN (calmly): Don’t you realize? They don’t want our music.

VOICES (from the troupe): Or our dance either.

PRODUCER: You take your instructions from me, not them. They’re simply rabble-rousers, no more.

ANOTHER MUSICIAN (calmly): Don’t get so worked up. What’s the point of music if no one wants to listen to it?

PRODUCER: What’s the meaning of this? Are you refusing to do what I ask?

SPECTATOR 4: The musicians and dancers have started to understand. But this Producer doesn’t want to.

SPECTATOR: It’s not in our best interests for him to understand.

PRODUCER: Answer! Are you refusing to play? (A pause) I suggest you remember that your government employees. I’m the one who gives the instructions around here.

MUSICIAN: He’s threatening us.

PRODUCER: I’m deadly serious.

[The musicians whisper the phrase “he’s threatening us” among themselves, calmly but suggesting that they are getting angry.]

SPECTATOR: A well-known tactic!

SPECTATOR: What a disgrace!

[The musicians pick up their instruments and leave the stage, one after the other, calmly and with all due ceremony.

PRODUCER (thunderstruck): Where are you going? Are you defying me? You and your instruments are going to be without a job from now on. You’ll regret this for a long time. You’ll be really sorry.

VOICES (from the dance troupe): The musicians have left.

So there’s no dance.

Let’s leave as well.

No, let’s stay and see what happens.

What’s it got to do with us? Let’s stay out of trouble.

[Some of the members of the dance troupe start leaving.]

PRODUCER: You too? Where are you going?

A DANCER: There’s nothing left for us to do  now that the musicians have left.

PRODUCER: Even the musicians. What does all this mean? Even the musicians. I’m losing my mind!

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Haven’t you lost it yet?

SPECTATOR 3: If you want my advice, the best thing for you to do is to follow your troupe and disappear.

PRODUCER: Are you expelling me from my own stage? In a situation like this, how can anyone keep his nerves under control?

OLD MAN: Is this my fault? No, no, it’s not necessary. I’ll just go back to my seat.

SPECTATOR 2: No, no. Tell your story.

OLD MAN: Actually it’s not all that important. It concerns a geography teacher. I was reminded of it when you were talking about geography. But I don’t want to interfere if it’s not the right time. It’s a story about a geography teacher, that’s all.

SPECTATOR 2: So what’s the story?

OLD MAN: Do you think it’s important for me to tell it?

SPECTATOR 3: Why not? For the first time at least, everyone should tell his own story.

`ABD AL-GHANI (from the hall): All the stories are important. What you’re saying and doing is terrific!

PRODUCER: What’s going on? The hidden aspect of this chaos is really scary.

OLD MAN: I won’t hide from you the fact that the whole thing makes me quiver with emotion. It’s rare to find anyone interested in geography. History has its leaders and thinkers. But in school programs geography is a secondary option. Everyone avoids it and regards it as a trivial part of the curriculum. A geography teacher has been standing for twenty years in front of a class that couldn’t care less. He can go on for hours recounting stories of the problems he’s faced and (with a sigh and something akin to a sob) still faces. For twenty years he’s been putting his map up on the wall (he takes a big folded piece of paper out of his pocket and opens it up in front of the audience) This is what he does. He spreads the map and says: ‘Do you see how wide it all is, and how rich? For the geography teacher, the piece of paper is much more than that; the lines are more than just lines. In that piece of paper he can smell the earth; in those lines which his fingers are touching are borders and human communities. For twenty years he’s tried to get other people to appreciate the breadth, to be fully aware of it, and to retain it in their memories just as he does. But, oh dear, in a country that has no respect for geography, how hard it is for any map on a wall to be important and any mere piece of paper to counter the factors that lead to oblivion. That’s really sad, as sad as defeat. Even though no one may be listening, the geography teacher can provide proof of what he’s saying. The map is torn to shreds, just as the unprotected earth is. (His voice turns gloomy) His map is being torn apart right in front of his students who either laugh or fall asleep. It’s started coming apart, one piece from the top (he tears off the north-west part of the map).

SPECTATOR 3 (quietly): The Iskanderun district.

OLD MAN (resuming): Bits of the east (he tears off some bits from the east section of the map).

SPECTATORS 3 and 4 (together): The emirates in the Gulf.

OLD MAN (his voice stuttering): A chunk from the middle part, right at the entryway, the core (he tears a piece right out of the middle).

GROUP (together): Palestine.

OLD MAN: The students either scoff or fall asleep. The teacher hasn’t wanted to see their fondest hopes hidden. He’s told them he was going to hang on to the parts that had been ripped off and keep them in his desk drawer. (he puts the torn bits of paper in his pocket) He’s told them we’d have to cooperate one day and try to put things right. But they simply laugh and refuse to listen. A piece of paper–how much is that worth? They don’t want to know anything more. The rips on the map increase in number. Just take a look at this piece of paper. It’s got holes, it’s torn apart, it’s in shreds. Today, oh dear, oh dear, you all know that students get less serious as year follows year. They’re more vicious and less interested. Instead of rebuilding the map, new pieces keep being torn away, lots of them, in the mid-south (and he tears another piece off the map).

GROUP: Sinai.

OLD MAN: And the middle West (he tears another piece).

GROUP: The West Bank.

OLD MAN: The mid-North.

GROUP: The Golan Heights.

OLD MAN: It’s happening everywhere. The map’s turning into a sieve, a body with limbs severed. Ah me! The teacher’s hand’s starts shaking as he tries to gather up all the pieces, quivering as it does with illness or old age. With a sobbing voice (and he replicates it in his own voice as though he’s in tears) he tells them that the torn bits are refugees, lands, and homes…Ah me…he’ll tell them even though no-one may be paying attention. Be careful, because the day may come when the small bit where you’re sleeping, eating, and keeping your puny relationships going may be torn off as well.

[He dissolves into sobs. There’s a period of profound silence now as a sign of the effect he has had.]

SPECTATOR 3 (after a pause, whispering in awe): You’re the geography teacher.

OLD MAN (choking as he talks): It doesn’t matter, not at all. He’s the geography teacher. In a country that has no respect for geography, you can imagine how hard that is.

[He stuffs the piece of paper back in his pocket, then leaves the stage and returns slowly to his seat.]

SPECTATOR: Don’t be so sad. Every teacher can bemoan the same kind of accumulated sorrows.[24]

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Do you know what he’s talking about?

ABU AL-FARAJ: No, by God, I don’t. A piece of paper being torn up. We’re living in tents; we’re hungry and sick. As if that’s not enough, people keep blaming us.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: By God, Abu al-faraj, we’ve lived through a whole lot.

PRODUCER (talking to himself): There’s no doubt about that. All the covers are coming off.

SPECTATOR 2 (to Spectator 1): So here’s a people’s entire geography with no image. A people who can only exist as a mist or dream.

SPECTATOR 1: Not merely that, a people that doesn’t want to interrupt the trance it’s in, who have no sense of danger or appreciation of what that means. The earth is sagging beneath our feet, and yet all we can do is wail ‘we didn’t know, we didn’t understand…’

SPECTATOR 7 (from the hall): No, no, excuse me. That’s not correct. We all knew the map was torn and the earth was sagging beneath our feet.

SPECTATOR 1: We all knew.

OLD MAN (from the hall): We knew!

PRODUCER (banging his head): Why didn’t I notice before? It’s all been organized, right down to the smallest detail.

SPECTATOR (approaching the stage): Yes indeed, and at this very moment we’re fully aware that the small piece on which we sleep and eat also risks being ripped apart and torn off. (A pause)

PRODUCER (looking astonished): I can see it all clearly now. A carefully planned conspiracy. Firstly `Abd al-ghani’s surprise, then these rabble-rousers.

SPECTATOR 7 (continuing as he comes up on to the stage): When the earth quakes, when the danger draws close, then the jungle-animals can smell the scent. Maybe we don’t have any image in the mirror, but we still have basic instincts. At least we still have them, and they can help us smell the danger.

SPECTATOR 5: They haven’t wanted us to smell it.

SPECTATOR 7: We could even see it.

SPECTATORS 5 and 6: They didn’t want us to see it either.

PRODUCER: All these speeches were clearly prepared ahead of time and in full detail.

SPECTATOR 7: We even felt it.

SPECTATORS 5 and 6: They didn’t want us to feel it either.

PRODUCER: The dialogue is continuous and the events are organized; there’s no doubt about that.

SPECTATOR 7: The danger was there for all to see, just like our mountains, seas, and the clear blue sky.

PRODUCER: By God, `Abd al-ghani al-Sha`ir, what a fantastic job you’ve done!

SPECTATOR 1: So how have we come to accept it all? Let the question ring out, loud and clear, even if people are deaf. That’s the real question, none other. The geography teacher has torn up the map of lands where people live. Soil for roots to be planted, and existence to continue. How can we have accepted such things?

SPECTATOR 2: All of which brings us back to the distribution of problems and responsibilities.

SPECTATOR 1: Of course. This disaster is just too  big to allow anyone to shirk the responsibility.

SPECTATOR 7: But we were willing not to accept. We wanted the land not to be ripped up beneath our feet; we wanted our roots not to be torn out and our future not threatened.

SPECTATOR 1: Quite right. These folk (and he points to `Abd al-rahman, his son, and Abu al-faraj) are a token of what we really wanted. Those tents are another sign of our will. The way the country’s map has changed is yet a third sign of our will.

PRODUCE: Do you see, gentlemen? It’s now as certain as my being here that the thing we thought was mere rustic simplicity is far more than that. What we thought was a mere passing chaotic episode is much more serious than that. It’s all been carefully planned in every detail.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Why don’t you simply shout it out like Archimedes: Eureka, eureka!

SPECTATOR 7 (still calm): Refugees, tents, changes in the national map. That’s all true enough. Faced with such realities, our eyes would rather be blind. But none of it changes the fact that we were eager not to acknowledge it. We all wanted our map not to be torn to shreds in such a humiliating fashion.

SPECTATOR 2: What value does our will have if we’re all featureless images?

SPECTATOR 7 (without pausing): Have you forgotten that day in June? The streets were packed, houses ejected their inhabitants, windows were wide-open, loud-speakers were blaring, and emotions colored our faces. We were all shaking; streets turned into streams of anger, violence, and emotion.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): We embraced each other and wept for sheer enthusiasm. Yes indeed, as I told this man a while ago (pointing at the Producer), we embraced each other and wept out of sheer emotion. We imagined that a prolonged period of humiliation was over, and justice would reign. There would be happiness, and misery would be gone for ever.

SPECTATOR 7: On that June day streets were overflowing with people. Squares were packed. We all assembled without pre-arrangement, everyone responding to a profound call coming from deep in the earth, from fear, from hopes of plenty and generosity.  Enthusiasm seared our blood, and emotion reddened our faces. The streets were overflowing. In our midst we had bakers, smiths, porters, and laborers in various trades.

SPECTATOR 3: I saw some itinerant peddlers as well.

[One expression now follows another. The Spectators join in so that the entire scene takes on the form of a demonstration.]

SPECTATOR: And I saw newspaper-vendors, shoe-shines, and beggars.

SPECTATOR 7: Waiters and cafe customers.

SPECTATOR 5: And I saw some poor folk who on most normal days could not find anything to buckle their bellies with…

SPECTATOR 4: Farmers arrived from nearby villages too.

SPECTATOR 6: Students and teachers as well.

WOMAN (from the hall): Women came out on to the streets too. On that June day women opened closed doors and came out on to the streets.

SPECTATOR 7: Everyone, old, young, even children, gathered together on that June day. The streets were overflowing. Enthusiasm seared our blood and emotion reddened our faces. All we heard was the roar of that profound cry.

PRODUCER: Gentlemen, we don’t need evidence. The events were continuous and obvious for everyone to see.

SPECTATOR: We all wanted not to accept. We wanted to be responsible.

PRODUCER: This is a total conspiracy, and I’m not ruling out the possibility of foreign involvement.

SPECTATOR 2 (as though talking to himself): What’s the value in wanting to be images with no features?

SPECTATOR 7 (going on and realizing what he is saying): The hungry forgot that they were hungry.

[The conversation takes a tangent.]

SPECTATOR 3: The naked forgot that they were naked.

SPECTATOR 4: The dupe forgot that he’d been conned.

SPECTATOR 7: The torture-victim even forget his agony. That June day, streets were overflowing. We all wanted not to accept. We wanted to be responsible.

PRODUCER: This is all `Abd al-ghani the writer’s doing, and it is unprecedented. Now people have started raising these issues that contravene security and the supreme public safety of the country. Can there be any room for doubt?!

SPECTATOR 7: We were all part of that clear, terse slogan: what are you asking for?

[A number of Spectators spontaneously come up to the stage and in the hall as well; it’s almost instinctive as they form themselves into a unified single voice.]

GROUP: Weapons.

PRODUCER (as though he’s waking up, banging his head): But how can this be happening in my theater? I would have rather the theater collapsed on top of me rather than witness what I’ve seen here.

SPECTATOR 7 (his voice is now a shout): What are you asking for?

GROUP: Weapons.

[The Producer panics. He looks like an imbecile. The demonstration seems to be taking shape almost spontaneously.]

PRODUCER (wandering around the stage, eyes bulging): My theater is never going to be turned into a den of intrigue. Let’s stop this at once. (He claps his hands) Where are the lighting people? (He claps again) Where are the lighting people. Turn out the theater lights! Put on the hall lights. This should stop right now, this instant. Hurry up, come on. Our show has uncovered a very dangerous conspiracy, a genuinely dire conspiracy.

[The theater lights go out, creating all sorts of havoc. The hall lights go on. The Spectators on the stage turn into shadows, their movements confused.]

SPECTATOR 2: When our existence really starts and our features become clear, they call it all a conspiracy.

SPECTATOR 4: Then terrorism spreads.

PRODUCER: Leave the stage! Leave the theater!

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Carry on!

SPECTATOR 5: Then they turn out the lights on us.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): Carry on!

Beware of the consequences.

Let’s continue what we were saying.

Don’t forget they’re all among us here.

SPECTATOR 3: At least once, everything needs to be said.

[Some Spectators leave the stage and spread around the hall. `Abd al-rahman, Abu al-faraj, and `Izzat look surprised. They hardly know what they’re doing. They move forward a bit and cluster  by the edge of the stage, totally non-plussed and baffled by what is happening.]

PRODUCER: Stop the mess,cut the chaos! Get out!

`ABD AL-GHANI (craning his neck from where he’s sitting): That’s terrific. Don’t leave a single word unsaid.

SPECTATORS (from the hall): Carry on!

Let’s continue!

We all wanted weapons.

Weapons.

SPECTATOR 7 (his voice dominating the entire place): With our tongues severed we never asked.

SPECTATOR 5: Nor with our blocked ears.

SPECTATOR 4: Nor with our minds cast aside.

SPECTATOR 6: Nor with our bare sufficiency, which we didn’t have in any case.

SPECTATOR 7: We were willing not to accept; we wanted to be responsible. On that June day the streets were overflowing. All of us united in that clear, terse slogan: what are you asking for?

GROUP: Weapons.

PRODUCER: Stop. You’re going to pay a high price for this. Stop!

SPECTATOR 7: What are you asking for?

GROUP: Weapons.

PRODUCER: Not here, you’re not. Go to some other theater, any other theater.

[The Spectators continue with their play, totally ignoring his shouts.]

SPECTATOR 7: The bakers wanted to stuff their bread with bombs and feed it to the invaders.

SPECTATOR 3: The smiths wanted to melt their metals and turn them into nails under the enemy’s feet.

WOMAN (from the hall): Women wanted to use their jewelry to make bullets and bombs.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): We wanted to water the earth with the invaders’ blood.

WOMAN (from the hall): Women wanted to put on helmets rather than make-up.

ANOTHER WOMAN (from the hall): And to carry guns and ammunition rather than nice pocket-books.

SPECTATOR 7: The man under torture forgot his agony. The streets were overflowing with people. Thousands of people who didn’t want to be violated, who didn’t want yet more poverty and humiliation. A terse, simple slogan: What are you asking for?

GROUP: Weapons.

PRODUCER: I seek refuge with God! How can I have allowed you to lead me on like this…?

SPECTATOR 7: All the men were singing the song:

Hey boy, exhausted woman’s son,

Leave your mother and get a gun,

The gun’s much better than your mother,

When times are tough, it solves your bother.

SPECTATOR 4: That was our war.

SPECTATOR 3: Against swindlers and thieves.

SPECTATOR 4: That was our war.

SPECTATOR 5: Against those who protect the thieves.

SPECTATOR 4: That was our war.

SPECTATOR 6: Against daily hunger, misery, and death.

SPECTATOR 4: That was our war.

SPECTATOR 5: And every one of us wanted to carry a rifle without wearing a green uniform, different from soldiers.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN and `IZZAT (in shocked unison): Ah…that man.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): We all wanted to be him.

SPECTATOR 7: The streets were overflowing with people on that June day. Our slogan hasn’t changed: what are you asking for?

GROUP: Weapons.

SPECTATOR 7: The streets led us to them, and they greeted us with frowning faces.

SPECTATOR 5: As long as  I live, I’ll never forget their threatening looks.

SPECTATOR 7: From balconies and through loud-speakers they told us that they admired our spirit, but we were helping the enemies of the people and conspirators against the regime.

SPECTATOR 6: They told us war had nothing to do with us.

SPECTATOR 5: They told us to be careful we didn’t fall prey to agitators and informers.

SPECTATOR 7: They spoke to us from their balconies and through loud-speakers, with frowns on their faces…

SPECTATOR 5: And threatening expressions in their eyes.

SPECTATOR 7: Go back to your homes, they said, and follow the heroic deeds of our armies on your radios. In a few seconds our mass of people that had spontaneously gathered in the streets completed dissipated.

SPECTATOR 3: And our collective will collapsed.

SPECTATOR 2 (his voice sad and his tone mechanical): When you’re just featureless faces, what do you expect?!

SPECTATOR 7: We all went back to our quarters, our homes, to cafes, tea, and the sound of radios blaring.

SPECTATOR 4: And we followed the accounts of our heroic armed forces.[25]

SPECTATOR: All of them with no exceptions.[26]

SPECTATOR (from the hall): If wars are long-distance races, we’ve certainly won all the championships without exception.[27]

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Some of the runners managed to forget their own feet in the shoes they left scattered behind them.

SPECTATOR 3: They were cleverer than the enemy. They abandoned their weapons and ammunition, then scurried away as fast as they could.

SPECTATOR 5: Before they threw their weapons away, they used up all the remaining ammunition by firing at rocks and tree-roots.

[Like an echo, `Abd al-rahman, Abu al-faraj, and `Izzat start repeating the section in which they’re talking about soldiers, as though, in some fleeting fashion, they’re recalling some old impressions.]

ABU AL-FARAJ: We encountered a lot of soldiers in the burning streets.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (in a low voice): They looked distraught and exhausted, the sweat pouring from their clothes.

YOUNG MAN: Even so we shouldn’t forget the people who resisted and actually sacrificed their own lives. [28]

SPECTATOR 7: We all wanted to resist along with them and sacrifice our own lives too.

[From the front rows a young man wearing civilian clothes stands up. He’s yells at them angrily.]

YOUNG MAN: Shut up! May you all lose your heads! I’ve kept my nerves in check longer than my military honor as an army officer will allow. What are these lies you’re telling? What phony rumors are you spreading?

ABU AL-FARAJ: Just like us, they don’t know what’s happening.[29]

`IZZAT: That’s right. Just like us, they don’t know what’s happening.

OFFICER: How dare you? This is an insult to our heroic army.[30]

************************************

VERSION 1

PRODUCER: Just a small part of the conspiracy.

OFFICER: What do you people know about the heroism of our courageous soldiers? One day the epic story of what our soldiers did during the war will be written down. Just look here. (and he points to his left cheek) Where do you think I got this wound?

SPECTATOR: Wound!

What wound?

It’s no deeper than you get at the barbers!

Or a scratch from long finger-nails.

OFFICER (angrily): May the devil wound all of you in hell! Who says such a thing? A scratch from long finger-nails! War has left its mark on my face, and you call it a barber’s cut? If the shrapnel had gone any deeper (and he touches his cheek in an instinctive gesture), I’d be one of the martyrs whom the country is mourning. A pox on you all! What do you know about our soldiers’ heroic deeds? One of our men brought down ten planes all by himself.

SPECTATOR (expressing amazement with all due sarcasm): No kidding!

SPECTATORS (in the same tone): No kidding!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Some of them told stories that were just like a pack of lies. Good heavens, one of them even swore…

OFFICER (interrupting and carrying on): Our action on Tel al-Raml, didn’t you hear about it?Five soldiers and a corporal managed to stop a whole brigade of tanks and destroyed most of their machinery. The enemy thought at least half the entire army was involved. They had to call in their air force. You can just imagine how ashamed they felt when they discovered that it was just five soldiers and a corporal.

SPECTATOR 7 (in the same sarcastic tone): No kidding!

SPECTATORS (in the same tone): No kidding!

OFFICER: The head of operations carried his own rifle and fought just like any other soldier.

SPECTATOR 7: No kidding!

`IZZAT: The soldiers we saw were so depressed, they were weeping.

SPECTATORS: No kidding!

ABU AL-FARAJ: He’s right, they were weeping like women.

PRODUCER: So here’s yet another segment of this treason and conspiracy.

[Meanwhile, Muhammad Abu Ghazala has entered. He’s wearing  a long, grey kaftan, its hem covered in dirt. His face is broad and pock-marked (or rather his face-mask is). His tone of voice is loud and imperious.]

MUHAMMAD ABU GHAZALA: True enough. At last I’ve found my role.

[Everyone turns toward him. The Producer is frothing at the mouth, his expression helpless.]

PRODUCER: Muhammad Abu Ghazala! Why are you wearing that face-mask? What’s that you’re wearing? What’s your plan?

OFFICER: Listen to me. Do you doubt my word. Don’t you believe me?

MUHAMMAD ABU GHAZALA: You’ve always despised me and given me the least important roles. But now…rub your eyes carefully and take a look. I am history…

PRODUCER: In this elaborate conspiracy, that’s the way actors behave.

SPECTATORS (sarcastically): History?

History?

What…history?

OFFICER: So now we have a clown! How dare you interrupt me?

MUIHAMMAD ABU GHAZALA (his voice taking on a fearsomely august tone): I spoke too quickly and made a mistake. I’m not history, just its messenger. I’ve come with some news…

PRODUCER: Just swallow that ringing tone of yours and get out of here at once. Haven’t we had enough farce for one night?

MUHAMMAD ABU GHAZALA: You’re not going to rob me of my one key role in life.

OFFICER: Listen to me. I’ll bring the roof down on your heads. I’ll burn you all alive.

SPECTATOR (from the hall, laughing): But where’s the history?

MUHAMMAD ABU GHAZALA: In a land where events are taken more seriously.

SPECTATOR (from the hall): Did you hear that? In a land where events are taken more seriously.

ANOTHER SPECTATOR (from the hall): He’s bringing us news from history.

PRODUCER: I told you to swallow that tongue of yours and go back to the wings. Can’t you find a more appropriate time to make use of your powerful voice?

MUHAMMAD ABU GHAZALA: Today that powerful voice of mine carries a message. It’s not some secondary role in one of your plays.

SPECTATOR 6 (smiling): Let history tell us its news.

SPECTATORS (blending the comic with the serious): Yes indeed, start talking, but don’t use any big words.

History. Isn’t that a big word itself?

What’s history got to tell us?

MUHAMMAD ABU GHAZALA: Steady on! Steady on! I’m going to let you hear every bit of news I’m bringing.

PRODUCER: I’m telling you to leave immediately.

[He pushes Muhammad Abu Ghazala, but he resists. The two men fight.]

MUHAMMAD ABU GHAZALA: I’m going to respond. You’re not going to deprive me of my role here.

SPECTATORS: Let him be.

They’re brawling.

Let him be!

I seek refuge in God from Satan the accursed!

Let him be!

Just let them scrap right in front of us!

*******************************

VERSION 2

PRODUCER (heading over to `Abd al-rahman, Abu al-Faraj, and `Izzat and shoving them off the stage): You’re all tools and fingers of this conspiracy. Get out of here!

YOUNG MAN (continuing in his loud voice): Some people really understood what was happening. Hugging the ground with their weapons, dozens of them hundreds, were buried in the sand as they fought.

SPECTATOR 7: They were alone; they resisted and died along.

YOUNG MAN: But they left the door open for hope. I’m aware that the dark cloud of defeat is thick, and yet it shouldn’t blind our eyes. There are some bright spots, windows open to light and hope. The events that happened in various places were sterling examples of heroism, things that can’t ever be forgotten.

SPECTATOR 7: A few beams of light scattered here and there which soon vanished because they were isolated. They resisted and died alone. We wanted to join them, but they addressed us with frowning faces.

SPECTATOR 5: And threatening looks.

SPECTATOR 7: War’s none of your business.

PRODUCER (heading over to the group): Enough, enough! Get out of my theater, all of you!

SPECTATOR 3: Our will was crushed.

`IZZAT: The soldiers we saw were so depressed, they were weeping.

ABU AL-FARAJ: He’s right, they were weeping like women.

PRODUCER: You people, I’m going to crush your skulls, by God!

[They stare blankly at him.]

`IZZAT: They were defeated but had no idea why.

PRODUCER: Take your foul conspiracy and get out of here!

`IZZAT: Like us, they had no idea of what was happening.

[The Producer starts kicking them. He keeps on punching and kicking them.]

PRODUCER: For heaven’s sake, scram!

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Now they’re kicking us, Abu al-faraj!

ABU AL-FARAJ: Yes, they’re hitting us.

SPECTATOR 2 (followed by a number of other Spectators): Leave them alone!

SPECTATOR 5: They’re hitting them!

*******************************

[Total chaos on the stage.[31] A man in the front row wearing an official uniform gets up.  He looks both angry and self-assured. He gives a signal to the men guarding the doors, and they all distribute themselves like sentries around the hall. The men use rapid drills, creating military formations that completely encircle the interior of the hall. They get out revolvers and aim them at the audience, especially the people who have been involved in the conversation. Everything that now follows is jumbled and confused.]

OFFICIAL (moving toward the audience): Everybody stop! All this has got to stop. (coming on to the stage. The producer cringes before him and does his level best to act submissive) Do you think that all public order has come to an end and the entire country has descended into chaos?

SPECTATOR (in whispers): Excellency.

His august presence, the president.

The president!

Revolvers!

OFFICIAL: Geography, history, and phony rumors. Everything painted in false colors.

PRODUCER: Lights…lights!

[A beam of light falls on the Official, and the hall lights dim.]

OFFICIAL: We told ourselves we’d let you carry on so we could see where it all landed up. But what’ve we’ve uncovered here is a conspiracy, the dimensions of which we don’t know yet.

PRODUCER: That’s right, Mr. President. There’s no doubt about it. A full-scale conspiracy from A to Z.

SPECTATORS (in a whisper): We warned them about the consequences.

Did they forget where we’re living?

The tongue can get up to all sorts of mischief!

OFFICIAL: Where is this quack author?

[Two men rush over to the row where `Abd al-ghani al-Sha`ir is sitting.]

PRODUCER: Yes, he’s the place where the rot starts. In fact, he’s the rot itself.

TWO MEN: Here he is, Sir.

OFFICIAL: Arrest him! Arrest everyone who’s participated in this foul conspiracy.

PRODUCER: Aha! At long last…!

[He claps enthusiastically. The arrest of `Abd al-Ghani and the rest of the spectators who have taken part causes a hue and cry in the hall.]

`ABD AL-GHANI: Don’t push me. I can walk by myself.

SPECTATOR 2: Just what we expected to happen.

OFFICIAL: Never in my entire life have I seen such subversive rabble-rousers!

SPECTATOR: I didn’t take part in any of it; I swear by all the prophets…

`ABD AL-RAHMAN: Now they’re going to put us in prison, Abu al-faraj.

ABU AL-FARAJ: That’s all that’s left!

`IZZAT: Where have we been up till now? Moving from one prison to another?

ABU AL-FARAJ: I only said one single thing. May God cut my tongue out if I said more than one thing.

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (shaking his head): Well, my son, we seen a whole lot, haven’t we?

SPECTATOR 6: The words led us on, like a mirage…

SPECTATOR 3: But words have to burst into speech at least once.

SPECTATOR: You’re making a mistake, that’s for sure. You must think I’m someone else.  I swear you’re making a mistake.

[`Abd al-ghani is close to the Official. They collect all the arrested men to one side of the stage.]

OFFICIAL (turning toward `Abd al-ghani and addressing him arrogantly): Ah, the genius author! Couldn’t you find an outlet for your talent other than conspiracy? (`Abd al-ghani stares contemptuously at him) Didn’t you take the circumstances our great country is going through into consideration?

`ABD AL-GHANI: That may well be the only thing I took into consideration.

OFFICIAL: So how did you let yourself get so fooled?

`ABD AL-GHANI (to the audience): Let myself be fooled? I confess. About an hour ago, the reason was far from clear; there was a vague feeling of disgust directed at my words, at my producer’s genius, at the lie that gradually spread like a patch of oil on water. But now…I know, I know, as clearly as the nose on my face in the mirror…so that what has happened can happen. Now I know the reason…

OFFICIAL: So that what has happened can happen? We’ll find out what lies behind what has happened. We’ve plenty of time to cross-examine you and your putrid group. We’ll see what your nasty conspiracy is hiding!

MAN (pointing the mouth of his revolver at his chest): Shut your mouth and say nothing.

PRODUCER (gritting his teeth): Terrific. One of my own actors is part of the conspiracy. So, Abu Ghazala, we’ll find out how to settle our account with you!

SPECTATOR: I said one thing, that’s all.

MUHAMMAD ABU GHAZALA: Do you really have the nerve to threaten the envoys of history?

OFFICIAL (moving toward the audience and adopting a traditional oratorical posture): Imperialism and its clients fondly imagine that our ability to stand fast has been weakened by events and the wind blows fair for them to demolish the firmly planted structure of our nation. They sow dissention in the ranks of our stolid citizen believers, with the aim of creating general chaos. Their fondest dream is for the crisis to erupt from the outset, but what they have not realized is that the masses of our people, with its loyal and reliable leadership, are fully capable of frustrating their plans, scoffing at their fanciful ideas, and treading them underfoot like the lowliest of insects.

SPECTATOR 2 (to SPECTATOR 1): I wonder whether or not we were responsible.

SPECTATOR 1:We’re responsible for our responsibility for the defeat.

MEN (waving their revolvers): Shut up!

Shut your stinking mouths!

Cut out the chatter and listen.

OFFICIAL: This splendid soirée with its enormous significance is a sure confirmation of the fact that these conspirators are still at work; the enemies of the people are intensifying their trickery as day follows day. You’ve watched them emerge from under their rocks in broad daylight; you’ve seen them stretching their evil tongues and spreading their poison like snakes, without fear or restraint. (The Producer claps, followed by a number of Spectators) Imperialism and its clients are heretical enemies of the people, by God; they imagine that it’s now possible to take over your public order, something that is marked by thousands of years of struggle and generations of victims and fighters.

[The Producer claps, and so do some Spectators. A whistle can be heard as well.]

`ABD AL-RAHMAN (whispering): Good heavens. He’s talking like the radio!

ABU AL-FARAJ: Yes, by God, it’s just like the radio!

MAN: May your tongues be cut out!

ANOTHER MAN: Don’t say a single word!

OFFICIAL: Imperialism and its clients imagine that our ability to stand firm has been weakened by events. They kid themselves that, from now on, we will never be able to resist their strategy, the aim of which is to humiliate us and put an end to the popular flood whose waves are now smashing all across our territory. But the masses who have been able to thwart the enemy’s plans and stay in full control of the situation are always fully capable of exposing conspiracies and scoffing at the imperialists’ delusions and of uncovering their operatives inside our society, agents who have sold themselves dirt cheap.

[The Producer claps, followed by a number of spectators. As the desultory applause continues, it is interrupted by an increasing number of whistles.]

OFFICIAL: The spectacular victories that our heroic people has won under the command of its trailblazing leadership that believes in God, His prophet, and the will of the revolution have all aroused the fury of the imperialists. That is why they have intensified their assaults on our citadels. Hardly have they given up on one failed plot before their sick minds come up with a fresh one. Imperialism never gives up, however many failures it may suffer. However our steadfast regime, with its devotion and mighty achievements, never gives up, and will continue to impose one defeat after another on imperialism. It will continue to expose its plots, strike down its agents, and destroy its bases, wherever they may be.

[The Producer and a number of spectators applaud, while another whistle is also heard.]

OFFICIAL: You members of the steadfast masses, I give you the example of this soirée that provides clear, fresh evidence that enemies are infiltrating among us, wearing a variety of different masks. We must stay alert and not let our guard drop for an instant. Every citizen is a guard, so beware of conspirators and traitors! Expose people who spread malicious rumors and continue to serve as eyes, missing nothing and never sleeping. Our progress will never be stopped, however many the problems we have to face. As our sacred forward march proceeds, it will not be affected by colonies of bats, people moving around in the dark. So, you masses, forward we go, forward! Continue to serve as eyes, missing nothing and never sleeping. Our progress will never be stopped, however many the fluttering bats and the problems we have to face. ‘Say: Get to work, and God will see your work, as so will his Prophet and the believers.’ [Qur’an 9, v. 105] So then, forward, ye masses, forward, forward…!

[Applause and whistling from all over the theater.]

MEN (waving their revolvers): You can all leave now.

Make sure you don’t cause any chaos.

Leave calmly.

OFFICIAL: Take them so we can see what they’re hiding.

SPECTATOR 3 (in a powerful tone of voice, looking toward the hall): Tonight we were improvising. But perhaps tomorrow you can move beyond that.

MAN (hitting him): That’s enough poison!

ANOTHER MAN: We’ll soon find out if it was improvised or not…

SPECTATOR (one of those standing around): I only said one thing. I swear by my children, no more than one thing.

MEN: Move!

ANOTHER MAN: Ahead of us.

[They take the arrested men out through the wings.]

MEN: Leave quickly.

ANOTHER MAN: What are you waiting for. Get out of here fast.

[In the alcoves and on the stairs.]

SPECTATOR: What an evening!

SPECTATOR: Let’s admit they had courage.

SPECTATOR: Yes, and look what’s happened to them!

SPECTATOR: But let’s admit nevertheless that they had courage. We did nothing to protect them.

SPECTATOR: What’s that to do with us. Walls have ears, you know.

SPECTATOR: What they said was true nevertheless.

SPECTATOR: I was sure the ending was going to be sad.

SPECTATOR: We’ve never seen an evening like it!

SPECTATOR: God curse the theater and its problems!

SPECTATOR: I told you I didn’t want to come. Do you see now what’s happened?!

WOMAN: How scared you are. At least, you weren’t arrested.

SPECTATOR: You would want me to be one of them!

WOMAN: You could never do that.

THE END

[1] I discuss Wannus’s theoretical writings, as well as this and other plays (up to the mid-1970s), in “Arabic Drama in Theory and Practice: the writings of Sa`dallah Wannus, Journal of Arabic Literature Vol. 15 (1984): 94-113.

[2] Mawāqif  no. 3 (1968): 5-68.

[3] Faruq Abd al-Qadir, Izdihar wa-suqut al-masrah al-misri (Rise and Fall of Egyptian Theater). Cairo: Dar al-Fikr  al-Mu‘asir, 1979, p  164.

[4] Sa`dallah Wannus, Al-Athar al-kamilah, Vol. 1, Damascus: Al-Ahali li-al-Tiba`ah wa-al-nashr wa-al-tawzi`, 1996.

[5] I explore this problematic in “Drama and Audience:  The Case of Arabic Theater,” Theater Three  no.  6 (Spring 1989): 7-20.

[6] A short sequence from a performance of this play–along with carefully orchestrated audience-involvement, can be seen as part of the television series, The Arabs (hosted by Basim Musallam), that is available in DVD form. The particular program is called “The Power of the Word,” and is devoted to the place of literature in Arab societies.

[7] This translation is based on two versions of the text of the play: the first published in the Beirut journal, Mawāqif, no 3  (1968), pp. 5-68; the second in the complete works edition: Sa`dâllah Wannûs, Al-Āthâr al-kâmilah, Vol. 1, Damascus: Al-Ahâlî li-al-Tibâ`ah wa-al-nashr wa-al-tawzî`, 1996. As will become clear from the footnotes to this translation, the two versions differ and, at one point later in the play, completely diverge.

[8]  Added to the complete works edition: Sa`dâllah Wannûs, Al-Āthâr al-kâmilah, Vol. 1, Damascus: Al-Ahâlî li-al-Tibâ`ah wa-al-nashr wa-al-tawzî`, 1996: pg.21.

[9]  Added to the Complete Works edition, pg. 23.

[10] Omitted from the Complete Works edition, pg. 26.

[11] Omitted from the Complete Works edition, pg. 28.

[12]  The two versions differ at this point. The passage in brackets is in the Complete Works, pg. 29.

[13] Added to the Complete Works edition, pg. 35.

[14]  Added to the text of the Complete Works edition, pg. 38.

[15] This section is omitted from the Complete Works edition, pg. 41.

[16] This soldier’s speech and the next contain quotations of phrases from the Qur’an.

[17] This entire bracketed section is omitted from the Complete Works edition, pg. 45. See Mawāqif, no 3  (1968), 18.

[18] A quotation from the Qur’an, Sura 3, v. 169.

[19]  A quotation from the Qur’an, Sura 2, v. 249.

[20]  This entire section in brackets is omitted from the Complete Works edition, pg. 45. See Mawāqif, no 3  (1968), 27.

[21]  These words omitted from the Complete Works edition. See Mawāqif, no 3  (1968), 45.

[22] The wording of the Complete Works edition differs from that of Mawaqif  here, but the meaning is essentially the same.

[23] I shall call these voices ‘the group.” [A footnote in the original text]

[24]  This speech is not included in the Complete Works edition (p. 112).

[25] The phrase “of our heroic armed forces” only occurs in the Mawaqif  text. The Complete Works text only has “heroisms.”

[26]  This speech is found only in the Complete Works version of the text.

[27]  This speech and the following three are only found in the Mawaqif version of the text.

[28]  This speech only occurs in the Complete Works edition. In the Mawaqif  text, his introduction is part of the stage-direction that follows.

[29] The Complete Works text has “understand” instead of “knowing.”

[30] From this point on, the two versions of the text are completely different for a few pages. Two versions are now provided in translation: Version 1 is that of Mawaqif  (pp. 63-5; Version 2 (considerably shorter) that of the Complete Works, pp..120-21.

[31] The two versions come together again at this point. This particular phrase occurs only in the Complete Works edition.

One thought on “Soiree for the Fifth of June

  1. Pingback: Editor’s Note 5.2 | The Mercurian

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