Interview with Playwright Jamil Khoury

By Leila Diab, Arab America Contributing Writer

In the heat of moments in trying times and in the course of chain events that resonate within many of our global and national communities, playwright Jamil Khoury cleverly sought to convey in Mosque Alert several theatrical oracles as his avant garde rebuttal to xenophobia, Islamophobia and intolerance. The Mosque Alert play which premieres in Chicago from March 24th to May 2nd, 2016 will endeavor to project the reality of people's stories into the framework of human consciousness.

Jamil states, “Mosque Alert gives voice to multiple American perspectives and exposes the fears at the heart of intolerance. For example, Mosque Alert was initially inspired by the Ground Zero New York mosque controversy and a community's fear and racist attitudes towards Muslims.”

Throughout the years since 9/11, Muslims and Arabs have been subjected to a cultural zeitgeist which has been spiraling out of control with unsettling truths, especially about 9/11. Mosque Alert, actually developed out of Silk Road Rising’s live theatre and online videos that tell the stories and primary events through Asian Americans and Middle Eastern Americans.

One such Middle Eastern American story will be seen in Mosque Alert play, through the dramatic lenses of people's’ fears, robbed cultural identity, and racist, Islamophobia overtones.

The Mosque Alert play is based on the desire of Muslims to build a mosque in Naperville, Illinois. However, hundreds of Naperville community members were viciously and unrealistic opposed to it. Why were these community members in fear of having a mosque built and not a church or synagogue? Opposing community members leached out and claimed that the Mosque would cause traffic jams, or it would be too close to our schools and a mosque is a fearful national security risk in their neighborhood. Ironically, Mosque Alert was developed over a period of two to three years as an integral part of Silk Road Rising production company, of which Jamil Khoury is the founding artistic director.

Mosque Alert, hosts a cast of eleven actors. Five of these actors are Caucasian and six are of Arab and Muslim origins. And in the element of any play it is the actor’s role to project quality and integrity on a broad spectrum of perspectives that will have a tremendous influence on the world and people. Ironically, Mosque Alert is an important piece of history, as it throws light on the subject of Muslim degradation, as it looks past competition and gains community trust.

Life experiences for the innovative literary artist, Jamil Khoury, who was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1965 to a Syrian father and a Polish/Slovakian mother honed his multi-cultural identity and Orthodox Christian heritage that intersects with other diverse cultures and systems of beliefs.

Khoury holds a M.A. degree in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School and a B.S. degree in International Relations from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. And is a Kellogg Executive Scholar (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University) and has been awarded a Certificate of Professional Achievement in Nonprofit Management.

With impeccable educational credentials, I asked Jamil, what inspired you to become a playwright? “Ironically, many of my experiences became such a part of me. I care about people and that is when I decided to become a playwright. I needed an escape and had many Middle Eastern stories to visualize in a theatrical sense.”

Jamil Khoury’s life altering experiences while visiting his family in Syria, working as a refugee officer in the West Bank Palestinian refugee camps with UNRWA, and cultural activism, exposed him to the amount of fear, repressive environments and oppression that easily incites visible targets of diverse beliefs, and assumptions upon others such Arabs and Muslims.

As a playwright, Khoury has the remarkable talent to engage people with something that shows hopefulness, as well as create a forum on life’s challenging storytelling experiences. Mosque Alert, will hopefully inspire and immerse its audience to change and enlighten their obscure perspectives on cultural inclusiveness.

Editor’s Note: Jamil Khoury is the recipient of the Asian American Studies’ Community Leader Award, 2013 recipient of the Actor’s Equity Association’s Katheryn V. Lamkey Award, in addition to several other literary awards.