In the post-9/11 era, over a hundred theatric performances exploring the fallout from the “war on terror” have been staged in Cairo, London, and New York. Though never discussed in relation to one another, the works from major cultural centers on three continents provide valuable insights into how people from three cultures have responded to the wars and political policies since 9/11, as well as how they have attempted to form their resistance to those policies.
To explore this, my study begins with a historiography of “terrorism,” exploring the term’s roots in the French Revolution as a means by which to discuss state violence, a use that was standard throughout the nineteenth century. However, during the twentieth century, as the nation-state became the normative structure for political organization, resistance to it—“subnationals,” as they would come to be called in State Department parlance—were redefined as “terrorist.” Therefore, the construction of the United Nations, the development of human rights discourse, and the codification of terrorism laws occurred within the same era of organizing (un)acceptable political behavior.
The next three chapters of the dissertation then undertake examining theatric works within each of the nations under consideration alone. From there, the following five chapters focus on formal or thematic concerns—the political efficacy of musical theater, representations of Afghanistan, the staging of Iraqi voices, stories of soldiers returning from war, and diasporic theater—in cross-cultural analyses, comparing how similar narratives and structures have been used in different cultural contexts to resist both the “war on terror” and local forms of political oppression. The final chapter of the dissertation looks at Naomi Wallace’s theater-making practices, before closely examining her play The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East, one of the few American dramas to draw connections between Palestine and Iraq, as well as one of the few plays about the “war on terror” to have been staged in Cairo, London, and New York.
Through an examination of these performances, I argue for the necessity of a more intimate form of transnationalism, one that can understand the effects of global political events on the smallest spaces of distant lives, as well as one that resists the underlying systems of oppression, rather than their symptoms. The conclusion then expands on this argument as not only a call for artistic production, but also for scholarly endeavors in a world where artistic production has become more global and diffuse.