Scene: a bare stage
The Goddess appears.
Goddess: The war threatens to turn civil . . . a civil war between those who think very differently, and see each other as enemies. It's mostly men who fight, but some women too. And there are suicide bombers, a strange breed who think that by martyring themselves they will obtain His approval and attain the glory of heaven. What a bizarre notion. I wonder which corrupted holy text gave them that idea? (shrugs) Oh well, there's no way to keep the human mind from twisting things to their own purpose. Nevertheless, the war rages on — the battle is engaged . . . And here is a small vignette from behind the scenes, as it were, a little capsule of the horrors to which these humans have descended.
In a secret place in the ancient city, a modern atrocity is about to take place. The zealots from an extremist group have threatened a private citizen from a Western country with beheading. Ironically, the private citizen is a highly paid engineer who was hired to rebuild the power grid for the city on the Western model. But these fanatics -- some would call them barbarians -- prefer to remain in the semi-darkness.
[Goddess exits. Stage goes dark. Drumbeat begins. Lights come up on a stage empty but for a stool. Blindfolded hostage is shoved lightly onto stage, burly guard follows. Hostage pauses stage center, getting his bearings as he "takes in" the room.
Hostage: We're in a cell of some kind, without windows.
Am I right?
Hostage: So why keep me blindfolded?
Guard: Because there's nothing to see, so sit down.
[Helps him onto the stool.
Hostage: [sitting] I do not wish to disobey my host.
Guard: Sarcasm will not save you, my friend. Silence is best.
Hostage: Fine. Then I choose to be silent for now.
[There is silence for a few beats. A harlot, a musician, and a child of about 10 enter.
Hostage: I believe some visitors have just come in.
No doubt they are government officials
or observers from the United Nations . . . ?
[The musician strikes a pose and sounds her instrument.
Hostage: Ah-ha, a troupe of traveling minstrels.
[Music grows louder as the Captain enters. He nods to the guard, who withdraws upstage. He raises his hand and the music stops. He lowers his hand and the musician sits down on stage.
Captain: So you are the great engineer who would give us more light.
Hostage: And you are the brigand who would rather fight.
Captain: Men who use that tone with me are more likely
to lose their heads.
Hostage: And will I lose mine?
Captain: That depends.
Hostage: Upon what, if you don't mind my asking?
Captain: Upon whether your government accepts my terms.
Hostage: Are they reasonable terms?
Captain: Reason is not
the issue here. It is a matter of power.
And I am the one with my hand on the switch.
Hostage: For the moment.
Captain: A moment is all it takes.
Hostage: But this moment will last for eternity.
Captain: I did not bring you here for idle arguments
to pass the time or test my convictions!
Hostage: Whatever the reason, I was brought here
against my will.
Captain: You are simply a victim of war, nothing else.
You must rid your mind of any notions of superiority.
Individuality is not sacred here.
That is a Western concept. You will soon
discover that most of your cherished beliefs
hold no validity for us.
We live by a different set of principles.
You were brought here by the will of Allah.
Hostage: I was abducted from my hotel by a gang of thugs.
Captain: [shrugs] Call it what you wish.
Your judgments are of little concern to us.
Hostage: What about the judgment of an international
court of law? Kidnapping is a criminal offense.
Captain: I repeat, you are a victim of war.
Will the generals of your occupying army
be brought to justice for the murder of the innocent,
for the many women and children killed by their smart bombs?
I think not. [shrugs] All that happens here is by the will of Allah.
Hostage: Is that so? What makes you so sure?
Captain: [laughs] You Westerners are so cocky.
You think your technology will conquer the world.
You think the human mind can solve all mysteries.
Listen to me, my friend, there are more chambers in the heart
than you can see on an X-ray.
Hostage: Technology is a great gift to mankind.
Captain: Do not mock me! Why would Allah give such a gift
to infidels? You scientists do not believe in Him.
You do not believe what you cannot see,
what you cannot explain. God does not matter to you,
only the ideas of your tiny brains.
Hostage: These ideas have brought great things to light.
Think of what Einstein's theories, or Aristotle's --
Captain: I refuse to debate the theories of your dead philosophers.
I have completed my education in your
worn-out Western ideologies.
Men will always respect one thing above all others,
and that is power. It is very simple.
This has always been the way of man
and it will never change.
My father and my father's father knew this,
and it is something I mean to teach my sister's son.
Come here, my boy. Keep an eye on him until I return.
[Captain exits. The Boy has come forward. Musician plays. The Boy looks warily at the Hostage. The Harlot moves past the Guard, stroking his beard seductively as she goes by. The Guard remains in position. Harlot steps closer to the Hostage. She looks at the Boy, who moves away, then turns her attention to the Hostage.
Harlot: Not bad looking for a man with a blindfold.
Hostage: May I know who is addressing me?
Harlot: You may know me when I am undressing you . . .
Hostage: You sound like a very intelligent woman.
Are you here on some official business?
Harlot: You might call it that. I have no personal
interest in what happens to you.
I am merely curious to see what he will do
with you. The Captain is a man of whom
I am very fond, and he holds a certain
fascination for me.
Hostage: And why is that?
Harlot: Most men are weak, or weakened by their need
for a woman, but not him. He is different.
He is strong in a way that excites me,
and I am not easily excited.
You too possess a quality I admire.
You showed backbone when you stood up to him
just now. You did not beg for your life as others would.
Hostage: It may come to that in the end, you know.
Harlot: That it may, but for now I am amused
by your bravado, which is so characteristic
of your country, and all the younger countries.
Hostage: The younger countries . . . ?
Harlot: Yes, the ones that have not had time to mature.
Our culture is a very old one. We go back to the ancient Persians,
and we have seen the rise and fall of many kingdoms.
Civilization needs time to ripen,
people need time to evolve, to learn and grow.
As a scientist you should realize this.
Hostage: I won't dispute the hypothesis,
but I refuse to call a culture civilized
when it uses torture and decapitation
to keep people in line.
Harlot: When will you western children
understand that people are happier
when they have a set of rules to live by?
Too much freedom makes little children sick.
Hostage: We have a set of rules -- it's called the law.
Harlot: Have these laws made people behave themselves?
Your country has the highest murder rate in the world.
Do you know why? No fear of punishment.
Hostage: We do not believe in rule by fear.
Harlot: And why not? It has worked for thousands of years.
But let's stop this debate, shall we? I like you.
Would you like me to remove your blindfold?
Hostage: Yes, I would like that very much. Will you do that for me?
Harlot: I might, but only for a minute,
just so I can see what you look like without it.
Boy: [coming forward] Don't you dare! My uncle would not permit it.
Harlot: Your uncle would gladly grant me this small favor.
[The Harlot removes the blindfold. Blinking, the Hostage looks at the Harlot, then at the Boy, and finally at the Guard. When he understands he is to be allowed this freedom, he smiles at the Harlot.
Harlot: There you go . . . You look much better now.
Hostage: I had no idea you were . . . so beautiful.
[The Musician plays a mock love song.
Musician: [singing] You are the Captain who has captured my heart
You have succeeded where others have failed.
I will be yours forever, never to part.
Upon your spear I remain impaled.
Hostage: I have a son about your age. What is your name?
Boy: [Ignores the question. To the Harlot.] Please put it back!
My uncle would not approve.
[The Holy Man has entered with the Beggar at his side.
Holy Man: What is it I would not approve of, my boy?
Boy: Not you, Uncle. The Captain.
Holy Man: Is he not here? I wish to speak with him.
[notices the Hostage] There you are, you unfortunate man.
[notices the Harlot] You! You must remove yourself at once.
Please go. It is unseemly for you to be near me.
Please leave immediately, do you hear?
[The Harlot makes a slow exit while the Musician plays. She dances past the Guard. The Beggar turns to watch her with a lustful gleam in his eyes.
Holy Man: How are they treating you, my friend? Are you well?
Hostage: Well enough, I guess. Much better without the blindfold.
Holy Man: I'm afraid we'll have to replace it before
the Captain returns.
Hostage: Can you help me? I seem to be caught in a
rather desperate situation,
and I'm growing increasingly afraid
that something terrible will happen to me.
Holy Man: The things they do in His name are unspeakable.
But I have come here to help you, my friend.
The Captain is my younger half-brother
and I an hopeful that he will listen to me.
He is not a bad man, just a passionate one.
He has been misled by others like him,
those who are blind to the common decencies.
Do you have a wife and children?
Hostage: Yes, and I love them very much.
If I never see them again, I'll . . .
Holy Man: I feared as much. If they would only pick a man
without a family, a homeless beggar
with nothing to live for, no children who love him,
no wife who adores him . . .
Beggar: Please, your Holiness, may I say a word?
Holy Man: Indeed you may. You are a man among men.
Beggar: Since it's of beggars you speak I feel compelled
to say that we are not as many think we are.
I myself had a wife and children,
but the Lord saw fit to take them from me.
I had a good trade as a weaver of tapestries,
but the Lord saw fit to cripple my hands.
I had a home with a little garden,
but the Lord saw fit to burn it down.
Now, as you say, I have nothing to live for.
I have no place to sleep but the street and the stable.
But even I have an old mother and a sister
who would mourn me, who would wail for me,
even I have friends among the brotherhood of beggars
who would shed a tear at my passing.
A lame man needs me to bring him water,
an old dog sleeps beside me for warmth,
and several cats depend on my good fortune.
So you see, your Holiness, no man is a lone wolf.
Holy Man: Thank you for reminding me, my friend.
Hostage: "No man is an island . . . any man's death
diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind;
and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee." John Donne, British poet and minister.
Holy Man: Those words certainly ring true under the circumstances.
Beggar: The bell tolls for thee. Yes those words do ring true.
[The Musician laughs with the Beggar and plays a little ditty on her instrument. The Beggar dances.
Holy Man: Please, please, this is a serious matter.
Won't you show some respect for this poor man's condition?
I apologize. They do not understand
the gravity of your situation.
Hostage: I do not expect them to care very much.
Why should they? It's not their neck that's exposed.
Holy Man: We are not a people without compassion.
Hostage: I do not believe the actions of a few
represent the feelings of the majority.
Every country has its extremists.
Holy Man: My brother the Captain is indeed one of the few
who believe they are the self-appointed
messengers of Allah. They think they do His will
but it is their own arrogance that drives them
to commit these horrible crimes against men
like you, men who take no part in this war.
Hostage: I chose to come here. I was aware of the risks.
Holy Man: Be that as it may, I will do what I can
to get him to release you unharmed.
You are an innocent man in the wrong place
at the wrong time. I hear someone coming.
[The Holy Man replaces the blindfold as the Captain enters with the Harlot.
Captain: Why are you here, and what are you doing?
Holy Man: I've come to speak my mind to you, brother.
How are the negotiations going?
Captain: The negotiations are not going well.
Holy Man: Then it does not look good for this unfortunate man?
Captain: No, it does not look good for the prisoner.
We may have to carry out our threat.
I'm expecting a message that will determine
Holy Man: This is an evil thing you do.
The Qur'an forbids and denounces such actions.
Captain: It is a matter of interpretation.
The rules are different for a Holy War.
Holy Man: No fatwah has been declared by the imam.
Captain: What I see is not what the imam sees.
I am free to take it as I see it.
I don't need one of your kind to teach me how to read.
Harlot: Such a man is a rare breed. Isn't he wonderful?
Beggar: [holding out his hand] A little encouragement will make me
sing his praises . . .
Harlot: You disgust me, beggar.
Beggar: [holding his nose] Well, you're no bouquet of roses!
[Musician plays a mock-heroic song
Musician: [singing] He's a man that we all admire
He's a man that would walk through fire
Though it may sound quite absurd,
He's the man who will save the world.
[Harlot sidles over the Captain and puts her arm around his waist.
Holy Man: [to the Captain] Must she be here?
She does not bring out the best in you.
Captain: What do you hope to accomplish here?
Holy Man: I am hoping you will have a change of heart.
Captain: You should know better, dear brother.
You are no longer my teacher and moral guide.
I can think for myself now, do you understand?
Holy Man: Every man needs a little advice now and then.
Be reasonable. Set a good example for him [indicating the Boy].
Captain: I'll set a good example by being firm
in my resolve, not soft and weak like you.
Listen to me, Boy, a man must be made of iron.
He must have a will that does not bend with every breeze.
Holy Man: This is not the only kind of men there are, son.
Harlot: It's the only kind with any bal--brains.
Beggar: Coming from you, that ain't much of a recommendation.
[The Harlot makes a vulgar gesture at the Beggar.
Holy Man: She's an insult to all of us. Please send her away.
Captain: I'd prefer that you leave instead. At least she amuses me.
Holy Man: She will not tell you what you need to hear.
Captain: I know what you're going to say before you say it.
I've heard it all a thousand times. I will not change my mind.
Holy Man: She is part of the evil that has possessed you.
You are drunk with power and it's made you reckless.
You hold the life of this unfortunate man in your hands.
What gives you the right to decide whether
he lives or dies?
Captain: Do not think you can make me feel remorse.
Holy Man: A man without a conscience is a monster.
Captain: I have heard enough of your preaching.
Do not speak to me of monsters! The West
is full of them, monsters that grow fat on greed.
I have seen them with my own eyes up close,
the capitalists who kill for pleasure,
the men who suck the blood of the poor.
Their way of life is an abomination.
They are the infidels and defilers!
Nothing is sacred to them.
They would sell our holy shrines if we let them.
Christians and Jews are conspiring to destroy us.
They hate us for our holiness!
Holy Man: Don't add hypocrisy to your many sins
by claiming you do this for religious reasons.
It is painfully clear to me that you
are doing this for the worst possible reasons:
for self-glorification, for power,
and to impress that whore.
Captain: Your words will not provoke me to harsh actions.
You are an old man who is blind to the facts.
They would wipe us from the face of the earth
if they could. That is why we must always
be on the offensive. A moment of weakness
would be fatal. We are no match for them
in military force. Our strength lies in
surprise attacks and covert operations.
We will make them feel the pain
they have inflicted on our people.
Holy Man: Which brings us back to this unfortunate man.
Captain: It was unfortunate that he came here,
and now he must suffer the consequences
of that rash act and his unhappy fate. That is all.
You will never convince me that his life
is worth more then the lives of my brethren.
Holy Man: Not more, perhaps, but surely as much.
Captain: Save your tears for the women and children
butchered by smart bombs, compliments of the West.
Holy Man: What purpose will this man's death serve?
Captain: Another pinprick in the tentacle of the West.
When the pins get too painful, the arm will withdraw.
His death will serve as a warning and a reminder
that we are not powerless victims
to be swept aside by their lust for oil.
I do not believe he is here for the good
of our nation. Nothing but lies, lies and more lies!
He is not here to build an electrical power plant.
Hostage: I assure you my work is for your country's good.
We are politically neutral. We do not take sides
in this war.
Captain: Shut up! I do not want to hear from you!
Nothing but lies, lies and more lies!
Do you expect me to believe you are here to help us?
That the fat pigs on Wall Street would pass up
the chance to suck our blood?
That you are not here for the sole purpose
of ensuring that our oil keeps flowing?
Do you think we are really that stupid?
Holy Man: He might be telling the truth, you know.
Captain: Keep your nose in your holy books, brother,
and leave the harsh realities of the world
to those who know how to deal with them.
My informers have confirmed my darkest suspicions.
They are rebuilding our country, alright,
they are constructing a money-making machine
that they will control from Washington.
Hostage: We are providing you with the freedom
to hold elections, to choose your own leaders
Captain: More lies! You are enraging me, prisoner!
[to the Guard] Silence him! [The Guard places a hand
on the Hostage's neck.] Nothing but lies!
Holy Man: It is a well known fact that elections
will be held once this civil war is over.
Captain: We do not need elections. We need a strong leader.
Anyone elected with the help of the West
would be Washington's puppet.
Holy Man: A headstrong man has no use for advice.
Captain: And a weak leader has the shortest time to rule.
Holy Man: Is there no pity in your heart for this man's
family, for the wife and children who pray
for his safe return?
Captain: Not a shred. Many have perished in this war,
one more death holds no significance.
[The Goddess appears next to the Captain, an angelic figure stands near the Hostage. The Holy man goes to the Hostage and takes his hand
Holy Man: I have done all that I could for you, my friend.
[Slight pause. The Holy Man looks at the Guard, who removes his hand from the Hostage's neck. The Hostage's head drops forward and he begins to sob.
Holy Man: Try to summon the strength to bear your fate.
Try to forgive my brother for his cruelty.
I will pray for you.
[The Holy Man and the Beggar exit. The Hostage's head and shoulders are shaken by sobs. The Boy has been watching with growing intensity. He is deeply moved and torn between compassion and hatred.
Boy: Uncle, I have tried to despise him and I cannot.
Please help me to hate him so I can wish for
his death as much as you want me to.
I have tried to see him as the enemy,
and I have failed. Please show me how to
look at him without any feeling of pity!
Captain: Think of your mother's body blown to bits.
Think of the flesh ripped from her bones.
Think of the blood flowing from the gashes
in her belly.
Boy: But my mother is alive and well . . . ?
Captain: Use your imagination! If that is too weak then
think of the dead you have seen in the streets.
Think of their steaming entrails and smashed faces.
Boy: Is this the man who did that to them?
Hostage: That's a lie! I did no such thing!
Captain: Well, not him but others like him. What does it matter?
Use your imagination and you will see him
firing a machine gun and cutting down
your family. When they are dead he hacks off
their arms and legs . . .
Hostage: No! Imagine something else! Imagine me holding
my baby daughter and rocking her to sleep at night . . .
[The Boy is still torn and confused. A messenger comes in and hands the Captain a note. He opens it and reads.
Harlot: What does it say?
Captain: It is from his government . . . [All eyes are on the Captain
but he doesn't look at anyone. He smiles sardonically.]
They care very little about the life of one man
when it comes to making money for the rich . . .
Take the prisoner away.
[The Guard helps the Hostage to his feet and leads him offstage with the angelic figure walking behind them as the Musician plays a dirge. The Captain goes over to the Boy and straightens his shoulders. They exit together followed by the Harlot and then the Musician. The Goddess remains alone on stage.
Goddess: It is not for men to choose their own fate or decide the fate of others. It is not for men to wield the power of life and death. Such powers are reserved for Heaven, and only the gods can administer the justice for which humankind so desperately longs.
How is it that those who suffer hurt can be so pitiless about the pain of others? Where is their compassion for their fellow sufferers? This is a contentious world. One can only hope that it will one day be at peace.
[Drumbeat. The Goddess remains standing as the stage goes dark.