The Martyr next door

Ambika Shaligram
Wednesday, 10 July 2019

German writer Lutz Huebner and production dramaturg Kirstin Hess tell us about their play Paradies, which will be staged in the city as a part of ‘Towards Peace Festival’ organised by Maharashtra Cultural Centre in association with Max Mueller Bhavan, Pune

Recently, young actor Zaira Wasim announced her decision to choose her faith over her film career, which had everyone frothing at their mouth. There were tweets, posts and discussions about how she was doing this at someone’s behest (read: brainwashed). Well, only the Kashmiri actor would know the truth of her decision, but the crux of the controversy boils down to ‘influence’.

Many nameless youngsters, brimming with hate and anger towards ‘others’, seem to take the extreme step. What makes them do that? What’s their driving force? Trying to find clues to this mindset are two theatre productions — Marathi play Y, which has been produced by Maharashtra Cultural Centre (MCC), and German play Paradies produced by D’Haus (Dusseldorfer Schauspielhaus) Germany.

A part of the Authors Project that was started by Shrirang Godbole, Vibhawari Deshpande, from MCC, and their German counterpart, Lutz Huebner, the two plays will be staged in the city on July 14 and July 16, respectively. The plays will be staged as a part of Towards Peace Festival (details in box) organised by MCC in association with Max Mueller Bhavan. 

We chat up Lutz Huebner, who has written Paradies and Kirstin Hess, its production dramaturg. The play has been directed by Mina Salehpour. They will be travelling to the city as a part of the show.  Excerpts: 

Can you tell us about Hamid, the protagonist of the play?
Hamid comes from a middle class family. He is a third generation Turkish immigrant, born and raised in Germany in a secular environment. Hamid does not have a clear plan for his life, that’s when he meets some radicals from a mosque, who convince him that all the disorientation has to do with lack of religion, with a Western conspiracy against Muslims. He gets brainwashed, alienated from his family and pushed into the plan of being a martyr. 

Sarah Nemitz (my co-author) and I researched and discussed the question for about a year. The young people who are open to radicalisation are often not the religious guys, but the guys looking for a sense (or a purpose) in their life. They get an instant version of (radical) Islam which means, that from now on, anything they do is blessed, because they are a part of the good ones. Hamid is torn between his new brothers and his family. 

Our focus, while creating Paradies, was to find out what is so fascinating about radicalism. Why do people join a deadly system? What do they seek for and what do they find in it?  

Shrirang Godbole had mentioned that many Turkish Muslim youngsters had turned up to watch Paradies in Dusseldorf last year. What was their feedback? 
The German society is multi-cultural. The need for labour after World War II brought up recruitment agreements with certain countries. One of the first was Turkey, so many Turkish people live in Germany. 

In a regular school class, which comes to watch theatre, it is very likely that children with different religious backgrounds are amongst them. One interesting thing is that there are people who are confident about their religion. And, they tell us that they are happy that this burning issue has been told in a way they could laugh about. 

How do Germans perceive Muslims? Germany is the only country in EU which has admitted maximum asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq. Is that perception reflected in the play? 
In 2015, when the government decided to let one million refugees come to Germany, there was a spontaneous support of society to help these people (the majority is still very open to refugees). But, on the other hand, there was the rise of the nationalist, right radical movement who were in fear of foreign ,domination. 

Integration is a long process, that needs solidarity, communication and patience. For the play, the phenomenon of refugees wasn’t the main topic. It is more about homegrown radicals who give up their Western socialisation. It is about ‘the martyr next door’, not the guys from Syria. 

A play has to focus on one aspect, which should be worked out precisely and well researched. Migration and their consequences for a society would be another play.

How are topical, current plays received by the political establishment in Germany? Do you have to battle for freedom of expression?
The communal and state theatres in Germany (which are state funded) have the mandate to deal with critical issues, to start public discussions and to set agendas. Currently, there are attempts from the right radical parties to censor the theatres and to get control over critical art. So theatres have to defend themselves against these attempts. 

Luckily, these enemies of free speech aren’t holding government responsibility in Germany. But knowing of the changes right wing parties provoked in Poland or Hungary, where theatre makers were offered a huge budget by the government if they produced ‘national history’ plays (and half of them did), and also being aware that our neighbouring country Austria let the right wing party participate in the government (and they tried to use theatre for their agenda which stopped only, because the government ended due to a crisis), theatres have to be alert. 

We have learnt that the performance of Paradies is ‘one step ahead of intimate theatre performance’. Can you elaborate? 
We tried to create a situation beyond the usual seating order in German theatre, having the stage on one side and apart from that a space for the audience. We thought it would fit the issue to bring actors and spectators very close together. 

While researching the play we also learnt about the suicide bombing in Club Bataclan when Paris was attacked in 2015. So we created a situation similar to it. No seating area, but space to stand or dance, and the actors in between. 

We are all together. We are all in the same boat, responsible for each other. We are close to our neighbours, we are one society. If members of our society attack us, we also must ask ourselves, what role we played and what we could do further. 

ST Reader Service
The ‘Towards Peace Festival’ will be kicked off at 10.30 am on July 14 with ‘Peace’ — a rock concert, presented by Pragnya Wakhlu and Gandhaar Amin.
Marathi play Y will be staged at 11.30 am.
On July 15, 5 pm onwards there will be screening of short films, jury speech, souvenir publication and a panel discussion on ‘Youth and Radicalisation’.
On July 16, 5.30 pm, Paradies will be staged.
The venue is Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha, Tilak Road

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