Hassan Abdulrazzak has a soft, almost shy demeanor. The 30 something Iraqi writer is thrilled to be in Sydney for the premier of his play Baghdad Wedding.

“It’s kind of a cross between London and New York isn’t it?” he says trying to make sense of the seething inner city streets around the Belvoir St Theatre. “I love the mix of old and new architecture.”

Baghdad Wedding premiered in London at the Soho Theatre in 2007. It immediately drew attention from theatre companies around the world who wanted to stage it. Company B, under the guiding hand of Neil Armfield successfully negotiated the rights, hence the season in Sydney. The current production is being directed by Geordie Brookman.

“I’m very much enjoying this production,” says Hassan. “I’ve discovered things, through what Geordie has done, about the story itself. It’s taking up the challenge of the story telling playfulness, of sometimes breaking the narrative and people coming in and interrupting then returning to the narrative. I think it’s a piece for real theatre lovers. They’ve done a great job.”
Hassan drew inspiration to write Baghdad Wedding from his he participation in the 2005 Iraqi election as an expat in London.
{xtypo_quote_right}My parents had to watch what they said in front of me as a kid, so I wouldn’t repeat it at school because the teachers, who would have been members of the Baath Party, would report it to those higher up and my family would get into trouble.{/xtypo_quote_right}
“You could vote,” he says simply. “Just going through the physical process, one felt a kind of responsibility. There is a guilt that you carry with you, that I’m living in London, having a good life…and I know just how hard it is to be in Iraq.”

Hassan Abdulrazzak was born in Prague to Iraqi intellectual parents who were studying in the former Czechoslovakia. His mother is a doctor, his father a sociologist. The family returned to Iraq when he was three. As an adult, he has embraced his Iraqi identity strongly, despite being in London since he was a child because not to would be to “complete the program that Saddam Hussein began - to get rid of secular opposition.”

“Saddam came to power in ’79 and we left in ’81.They (the authorities) began to lean more heavily on my dad to join the Baath Party. He was an academic, but he wasn’t particularly political. It was just a program to get all the people on side.

“I was a little kid and I though Saddam was a lovely guy! Obviously my parents hated him, but for me he was someone I watched on TV and at school they used to make us sing songs with words of praise about the guiding Father etc. I didn’t realize the level of animosity my parents had towards Saddam until we had left Iraq and they could talk openly.”

“My parents had to watch what they said in front of me as a kid, so I wouldn’t repeat it at school because the teachers, who would have been members of the Baath Party, would report it to those higher up and my family would get into trouble.”

After fleeing Baghdad, the family settled in Algeria for a number of years before migrating to England. What does he think about the current climate for Muslim immigrants in Britain and Australia?

“I think back then, in the mid 80’s there was less paranoia about immigrants and Muslim immigration. The concerns were less than now. I think one of the great things about London now is its multicultural aspect. I take the view that this is the way the world is going, I see it here in Sydney too, I mean, people bring certain skills. Obviously you have to manage it to prevent ghettoisation. In Britain there is a system of breaking up council estates and creating a real mix of housing, especially in London. Even in Kensington which is very posh, you find public housing.”

“There is a co-existence and a peace and I think that’s why, at least in London, although we’ve had race riots, it isn’t as problematic as in France. [But] We have the other phenomena of Muslim youths turning to terrorism which I’m still trying to grapple with.”

He is cautious talking about the issues that face Muslim youth, especially the radicalization of young Muslim men in Britain who constitute a “home-grown” terrorist threat.

Baghdad Wedding“I haven’t come through those experiences. I can imagine the sorts of experiences that would lead somebody towards that but it’s not my thing to write issue based drama. I’m not particularly drawn to that. I basically like to find my own subjects.”

His drama is more a humanist project and he resists strongly being made a mouth piece for the Arabic world or the cultural translator for a whole lot of experiences that are not his own. He isn’t a disaffected young man who wants to join an extremist group.

“I was recently asked to write about Afghanistan. It was a really good offer with a fantastic group of writers including Tom Stoppard but I just felt I had no real connect. I can’t speak about Afghanistan. There is a line in Baghdad Wedding where the American interrogator asks Salim ‘have you been to Afghanistan?’ and Salim just looks blankly at him. They have nothing to do with each other.” says Hassan with a degree of intensity thus far absent from the interview. “That was one of the lines showing the wrong headedness of the war on terror.”

In a recent article for the Guardian, Hassan wrote, “The challenge for writers from the Middle East in addressing a Western audience is not how best to deal with subjects of terrorism, extremism and war but rather how to get away from their confines to reveal a greater truth.”

“There are so many other issues in the Middle East, it’s such a narrow focus,” he says. “It’s nice when one comes across a story about something else other than terrorism or violence. I like writing that gets under the skin of people, that gets to what they are thinking and views them as human beings rather than generalized stereotypes.”

Hassan Abdulrazzak spoke to Jane Barton.

Baghdad Wedding is on at the Belvoir St Theatre until March 22. Further information»

Image Credit:-
Bottom Right - From the Company B production of Baghdad Wedding. Photographer Heidrun Lohr

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