Society

What if Romeo and Juliet Lived in Baghdad and Were Killed by a Suicide Bomb?

Iraqi theater director Monadhil Daood is producing his own adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, revisiting the classic play to show the difficulties faced by Sunni-Shiite couples in the Arab World.

'O Romeo (Iraqi Theatre Company)
'O Romeo (Iraqi Theatre Company)
Laure Stéphan

What if Romeo and Juliet spoke Arabic instead of English? What if the fate of the desperate lovers unfolded in Baghdad instead of Verona? What if the couple wasn't from rival families but from different religious groups whose militias engaged in ruthless clashes, escalating after the start of the Iraq war in 2003?

This is what Monadhil Daood, an Iraqi theater director, imagined with his own Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad, a new adaptation of Shakespeare's play. Daood turned Romeo into a Shiite and Juliette into a Sunni. In the streets, the raging rivalry does not involve the Capulets and the Montagues: now it's Al-Qaeda vs. the Mahdi Army.

Here, the lovers do not die during a tragic final twist – Romeo poisoning himself because he believes Juliet is dead, Juliet stabbing herself to death after seeing a lifeless Romeo. No room for romanticism. The young couple is killed by a suicide bomb in the church where they took shelter – a raw, realist representation of Iraqi hell. "I want to show the suffering of this generation and of previous generations, and the suffering of love", Ahmad Salah Moneka, who plays Romeo, told the Agence France Presse (AFP).

An atonement of the nightmare that Iraq has been through in the recent years, whose horrors are still being written with bomb attacks and corpses, this transposition of the Shakespearean play was shown at the Baghdad National Theater, before the European premiere on April 26, in Stratford-upon-Avon, the city of the Bard, for the World Shakespeare Festival.

A new tragedy

The adaptation also shows how religious identities have been become defining in a devastated Iraq, rendering difficult what was common up to 2003: mixed marriages between members of these two branches of Islam. In order to curb the trend of community divides, after inter-faith violence outbreaks in 2006, Iraqi authorities introduced a $2,000 bonus for mixed marriages between Shiite-Sunni couples. The aim of this was to fight the brand of sectarianism fostered by extremists in each religious group. Since 2009, the increase of mixed marriages is praised as a mark of renewal by observers on the ground.

In other parts of the region, mixed marriages are seen as a sign of the social cohesion of complex societies, an oriental intricacy in which sectarianism doesn't come into play. In Bahrain, where the monarchy has been facing popular protests since February 2011, opponents and loyalists hail the existence of Sunni-Shiite couples. (Sunni and Shia Islam are the two main religions in this little kingdom of the Persian Gulf). Political opposition, whose base is mostly Shiite, wants to show that religious analyses of the conflict are not relevant. Those who remain faithful to the Sunni royal family want to show that the country remains united despite the divides created by a deteriorating conflict.

For some of these mixed couples, the divides have worsened since the beginning of the uprising against the regime. "My husband is Shiite. I'm a Sunni and I support the opposition. It has become increasingly difficult to talk with my family. They believe that I'm putting the Sunnis in danger. These stances don't make any sense at all. Choices are political, not religious', explains Abir, a young Bahraini woman.

A simplistic Western analysis

In Syria, intellectual youth are slamming the Western press, accused of a simplistic, religious analysis of the growing tensions. These young men and women talk about the happy marriages between Alawis and Sunnis, Muslims and Christians, etc.

Becoming a symbol of national unity is a heavy cross to bear for a newly married couple. In Lebanon, interfaith couples who married before the war describe living an idyllic, harmonious life before the 15-year-long war that tore their country apart.

As their country was reshaped by a confession-based social organization after the war, and after an increase in tensions between Sunni and Shiite from 2008 on, the Romeos and the Juliets of Lebanon became real-life characters. Some of them resist by having a civil wedding ceremony abroad (since they are forbidden in Lebanon), or by having a fake religious marriage just to satisfy the modern Capulets and Montagues. They dream of a new Lebanon, a country where secularism would put an end to the religious divides.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo – Iraqi Theater Company

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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