“Unless we wake up and start implementing plans to save our civilization, you had better believe the Muslims are going to destroy us. Can't you see that the Muslims here in Naperville are laughing at us? This Old Nichols Library is nothing but a victory mosque for them. A much beloved local landmark that they're trying to conquer for Islam.”
So says Daniel Baker, one of the central characters of my new play, "Mosque Alert," which opens April 2 and runs through May 1 at the historic Chicago Temple Building. Baker is a fictional character, but as an antagonist, he is shockingly in sync with today's presidential primaries.
Is art imitating life or life imitating art? Two years ago, when I began writing "Mosque Alert," I had no idea that my play about a proposed Islamic community center in downtown Naperville—and the controversy it evokes—would premiere against the backdrop of the most overtly Islamophobic campaign season in American history. For candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, poll numbers soar with each call to ban Muslims and police Muslim neighborhoods. Likewise, I could never have predicted that my play would coincide with a dramatic increase in Islamist violence; bloody attacks on world capitals are now a weekly occurrence, it seems.
"Mosque Alert" zeroes in on xenophobia and fear, acceptance and understanding, and dramatizes conversations within and between Muslim communities and their non-Muslim allies and foes. The play has been called “alarmingly relevant,” and considering a cultural zeitgeist that views Muslims, immigrants and changing demographics as sources of collective anxiety, I have to agree.
Art poses questions that foster difficult conversations, regardless of the barriers that may separate us. Art provides windows into that which is possible by depicting scenarios we recognize as truth. Art offers guideposts that lead us to change.
The 11 characters of "Mosque Alert"—Americans of Egyptian, European and Syrian backgrounds—live in a world defined not by black and white but by grays. They struggle with questions of identity, religious practice, American-ness, national security, and the rights and obligations of citizenship. In grappling with resistance to mosque-building in communities across the U.S., I want to explore questions about who we are as Americans, how we define our values, and to shed light on perspectives and debates within Muslim America.
In this age of Donald Trump, many American Muslims report feeling demonized and ostracized. There is despair, there is hurt, and yes—there is anger. But there's also a growing determination to remind the rest of us just what makes this country great. Lasting security demands that we all work together.
"Mosque Alert," I hope, helps audiences arrive at that conclusion.