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Culture clash 

Playwright mines radical Islam's history and finds a Colorado connection

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Dar al-Harb, literally meaning "world of chaos," is exactly the world in which Sunni Islamist Sayyid Qutb found himself in Greeley in 1949.

The Egyptian poet, intellectual, educator and devoutly religious man, who came to Colorado to study Western culture, observed Americans living secluded lives. When he did see his new neighbors socializing, he saw eager sexuality, overt in the then-booming jazz music scene.

Qutb found churches too casual and not reverent enough. Perhaps worst of all, he discovered what racism felt like, as he was treated the way blacks were being treated at the time.

Qutb called Americans "shocking" in "The America I Have Seen," an essay he wrote about his stay. His later books advocated jihad, war on behalf of Islam; their impact brought rise to a following that includes Osama bin Laden.

"The idea of isolated suburbia was appalling [to him]," says Theatreworks artistic director Murray Ross. "[He] saw a lack of eloquence there."

Ross describes Qutb as "an important historical figure, relevant with today's war with terrorism and considered by many in the Middle East the father of modern radical Islam."

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Ross had dedicated himself to learning more about the Middle East and its seeds of discontent with the West. In his readings, he came across the irresistible character of Qutb and became inspired to write a play around him, in part because of his connection to Colorado.

What Ross created in Dar al-Harb is fictionalized drama, incorporating dance and video projection to help give the narrative a fantasy quality. Playing on the chaotic world theme, Ross has Qutb interact with townsfolk who challenge his beliefs. He brings comedic elements to the story as well.

"The play is not meant to be moralizing, preachy or political in any way," Ross says. Rather, he wants people to come to the play to learn a little history and to let themselves be entertained. The subject matter itself, Ross says, inevitably "will provoke thought about clashes and gaps in the cultures of American and Islamic life."

That's ultimately Theatreworks' goal in playing Dar al-Harb in tandem with playwright Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire. 9 Parts of Desire is a play about interviews with Iraqi women between 1993 and 2002, after the first Gulf War. All nine of the Iraqi women in the production are played by Karen Slack (who performed 24 roles in last year's The Syringa Tree). Themes like culture clash, among others, intentionally overlap.


Dar al-Harb and 9 Parts of Desire
Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Cragwood Drive
Runs through April 6
Visit theatreworkscs.org or call 262-3232 for showtimes and more.
  • After 9/11, Murray Ross dedicated himself to learning more about the Middle East.

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