The great Lesley Hazleton, over at the wonderful blog “The Accidental Theologist,” just wrote a great review of “The Domestic Crusaders.” Sharing it at Goatmilk.
Katie Couric, no longer quite America’s sweetheart, made news recently when she came up with what she called “a crazy idea”: what if there were a kind of Muslim Cosby Show? Would that help counter bigotry and make American Muslims real to the 60% of non-Muslims who have somehow avoided ever even meeting anyone Muslim?
Nutty, naïve Katie? Maybe not. Because I know just the man for the job. That is, if the Cosby Show were at least a couple of notches sharper and funnier.
Katie, meet Wajahat Ali. Waj, for short.
His new play, The Domestic Crusaders, has just been published in book form by McSweeney’s — a guarantee of cutting-edge cultural significance — and it’s dynamite. The good kind of dynamite.
The title itself is sharp-edged, an ironic cut at George W. Bush’s use of Crusader imagery for the American invasion of Iraq. On the surface, the play follows a day in the life of a Muslim Pakistani American family. There’s the parents, eager to preserve cultural identity while still trying to blend in; the grandfather indulging in what seems to be a well-earned old age; and three children, all in their 20s and none — horror in the mother’s eyes! — yet married: the daughter a law student in white hijab and designer jeans; the elder son defiantly secular; the younger med-student son gravely, calmly observant.
The play opens with the mother singing along to Tom Jones as she prepares lamb biryanis (warning from experience: do not read this play unless you have lamb biryanis within easy reach, because by the act of the first act all you want to do is reach for one, or two, or three). From this moment on, you’re laughing even as you’re being drawn deep into the multiple paradoxes of what’s been called the hyphenated existence (think American Jews or Mexicans or Koreans or Irish or add-your-ethnic-background-here), where language, culture, religion, and politics bump up against each other and then bounce off in unexpected new combinations.
As the family bickers, laughs, teases, reacts to the TV news, each grapples in their own way with the challenge of hyphenation. Religious stereotypes, Afghanistan, 9/11, racial profiling — all these and more churn through the barbed dialogue, with the parents often confounded by the very fact of their American children and the choices they make as they redefine what it is both to feel at home and to feel at home in America.
Consider ‘The Domestic Crusaders’ an introduction to a new American Muslim cool — sharp and ironic, funny and deep, running intellectual circles around the idiotic platitudes of bigotry.
Oh, and on second thought, sorry Katie — Wajahat Ali is far too good to be wasted writing for network TV.