Of all the people I ever expected to hear a motivational speech from, Osama Bin Laden was never one of them. But in Knaive Theatre’s “Bin Laden: the One Man Show”, there are a lot of unexpected moments. He made us tea, there was a love story, we felt loss and victory, and most of all, we empathised. In a play about one of the most hated men in the Western world, the legend of Osama Bin Laden turned into a man who fought oppression, lost so much, and felt human in a way no news report, propaganda video, or book ever has.
The first point of the show was ‘Find your motivation’, because as the after show Q&A pointed out, “you only go to war if you really give a shit”. The play starts with Bin Laden falling in love, and marrying, his childhood sweetheart. After having a son, he wants to leave behind a better world for his children, a sentiment every parent in the audience echoed. From that moment, it was easy to understand how Bin Laden made each logical leap that leads to the violence we associate with him. As the show walks you through the conflict in Afghanistan, the political differences of the leaders in the conflict, Bin Laden’s exile from Saudi Arabia, the conflict in his family, his growing anger at the world around him becomes understandable.
In a passionate speech, ‘Bin Laden’ targets his anger on American, accusing it of controlling, undermining, and attacking the Islamic world. Calling on the Umma (global Muslim community), the play shifts to the more well-known parts of Bin Laden’s life. As the lighting shifted to red and Bin Laden’s understandable frustration grows to rage, he talks through the ‘terrorist’ attacks that defined the 1990’s. The embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. The Battle of Mogadishu and ‘Black Hawk Down’, and the way Bin Laden was villianized afterward. Ending the show with 9/11, Bin Laden completes a full circle. From a young man looking to build a better world, to the symbol of Islamic ‘terrorism’ he is today, each step leading up to the attacks and his infamy made sense. While the show does a good job of explaining the historical context of Bin Laden’s early life, those who already know of the proxy wars between the US and the USSR will find the show a little easier to follow.
After the show, the actor and director invite the audience to stay for a discussion and debate. They clearly acknowledge that the show is controversial, and invite questions on the development of the show, the opinions presented, and issues audiences have with it. Their awareness of the ‘one-sided’ show help the audience to understand their role. As they said, they only have to bring one iteration of Bin Laden into the room, because the audience brings the rest of him. The audience brings in the mythicized villain, echoing George W. Bush speeches, and the underlying fear of the “Muslim other” that’s haunted the West for the better part of 2 decades. When confronted with the personal narrative of struggle and hope that the show’s Bin Laden presents, it demands the audience reckon those ideas. To view Bin Laden, and those after him as more rounded and complex individuals, to look at motive, find commonality, and empathize in ways our traditional view of conflict doesn’t allow.
Despite knowing much the story when I walked into the room, I was still moved by the piece. It was brilliantly performed, directed, and written. All my favourite art leaves you thinking and questioning your place and understanding of the world, and Bin Laden: The One Man Show did all of that.