Positioning itself somewhere between Islamist extremism and Western imperialism, Burqavaganza critiques both from the ground of human dignity and respect for human rights. Such principled critique is more widespread throughout Muslim-majority countries than many here in the West might suspect, according to human rights lawyer and author Karima Bennoune, whose new book, Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), is a far-flung firsthand survey of artists, intellectuals, and activists across the Muslim world combatting Islamist extremism in the cultural realm. Among the artists she profiles are Nadeem and Guahar. (In fact, she adapts her title from a line in another Ajoka Theatre play, Bulha). Bennoune says Ajoka has proved more outspoken in their critique of Muslim fundamentalism "than many liberal circles or diaspora populations in the West dare to be."
"What is perhaps most remarkable is that the Ajoka Theatre Company debuted this play, complete with its satire of burqa-obsessed extremists, in Pakistan in 2007, as political violence was on the rise — and only about a month after the nearby killing of the 36-year-old Punjab minister for social welfare, the women's rights advocate Zil-e Huma Usman," says Bennoune in a recent email correspondence. "Her murderer said she was not sufficiently covered in her shalwar kameez [a traditional South Asian dress]. As I write in my book, the real 'Burqavaganza' was right there, just outside the theater door."
For all its humor and high spirits, Burqavaganza has the potential to provoke questions as well as debate among the Bay Area audiences who come to see it. But that, enthuses Bennoune, is all to the good.
"The importance of a production of this kind in the US now after the Boston bombings — when there is still such a limited space to offer a sharply critical yet non-discriminatory response to the terrible mentality that accompanies jihadism — cannot be overstated. After all, as Nadeem reminds us, 'We all live in a Burqavaganza.'"
Through June 2
Opens Thu/16, 8pm; runs Thu-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 3pm, $20
Brava Theater Center
2781 24th St, SF