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The Domestic Crusaders

By Jack Foley

"When those two towers fell, we fell with them," remarks Salman, the father of the Pakistani-American family which is at the center of Wajahat Ali's play, The Domestic Crusaders. It is one of the many memorable lines in this remarkable examination not only of family dynamics but of family dynamics at this moment of history. What does it mean to be Muslim when it seems that every American believes that every Muslim is Osama bin Laden? Language explodes in all directions in this play-"Grab the tamataar, hari mirch, and pyaaz from the fridge"-as do the passions of the characters, who find it as difficult to live with each other as they do to live in America.

One of the great traditional techniques of drama is to place a group of anything-but-homogeneous people in a small space-in this case the family home-and let them act out their furies. We are down to basics here-food is a central issue. Khulsoom, the mother ("about 15-20 pounds overweight but not bad shape...Wearing traditional female bage shalwar khameez") cries out, "Salu, stop eating that nonsense. I've made you fresh biryani and chutney, don't ruin your appetite with that Chenna/China take-out. Salu, stop eating. Stop it." Unlike the children, Salman is perfectly happy to eat biryani, but for him it is the wrong biryani: he likes chicken, Khulsoom has made lamb. And then there is the terrible secret finally revealed by Hakim, the grandfather. What is history? Are the actions of our relatives in the "old" country still relevant to our lives? The children are fiercely "American"-but they are Muslims still and must deal with the incredible falsehoods daily issuing forth from the television screen, which they watch in a kind of horrified fascination. "Allah," remarks grandfather Hakim, "is the best of planners," but is He? Is any plan discernible in this chaos?

The Domestic Crusaders is a play about people who must forgive themselves for the sin of being human. Each of the family members represents a passionate and distinct apprehension of the world-our world. In this immensely vocal family, no one really agrees with anyone else. And yet: there they are, their lives endlessly intertwined, all their contradictions exposed. These people love each other, but they scarcely know how to do anything but carp at each other's shortcomings. Isn't that what it means to be American? In the immense diversity of this country, in which people who have absolutely nothing in common encounter each other daily, criticism comes easily. What is difficult is to learn how to love. Or, in the case of The Domestic Crusaders, to learn how to express a love which is surely there but nearly silent under the whirl of accusations, bitterness, and personal dissatisfactions. When Khulsoom asks her son Salahuddin why he is laughing, he answers, "This...This family. This is hilarious." She looks at him with genuine maternal concern-with love-and says, "Subkooch teekh hai, kya? Are you feeling all right?" Salahuddin laughs even louder at Khulsoom's remark, but the laugh is finally on him and on us as well. Funny, bitter, even affirmative (within severe limitations), The Domestic Crusaders resolves nothing, but it is a passionate mirror of the condition of the USA, 2005.

Jack Foley interviews writers on his weekly afternoon show on KPFA , the San Francisco Bay area FM Pacifica station. A poet, critic, and journalist, he writes a column, "Foley's Books," in the online magazine, The Alsop Review.

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