Guilty until further notice

IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS, I've read a stellar novel, an amazingly detailed investigative piece, and now a shattering memoir about what happens when the machinery of fighting terrorism grinds innocents into victims. This subject is at the heart of Theatre Conspiracy's new play, Foreign Radical.

The memoir is Mohamedou Oulf Slahi's Guantanamo Diary. He's still incarcerated after eight years of interrogation and torture, with no evidence against him. His handwritten, redacted manuscript is heartbreaking. The book's publication is a remarkable story in itself and The Guardian gives the story an impressive multimedia treatment with audio excerpts and animation read by artists such as Benedict Cumberbatch.

Michael Springate book
Michael Springate book

The Beautiful West & The Beloved of God is playwright/director Michael Springate's first novel. Set in Montreal, Cairo and Alexandria, it's the story of a young Egyptian Canadian who becomes "a nexus to terrorism" through circumstance — and the tragic fallout for him, his lover, family, friends and would-be business associates. Poetic, dramatic and told with great warmth, I tore right through it, wishing it wouldn't end or ended differently, although it had the perfect ending.

Also still incarcerated is Basaaly Moalin, the one person actually convicted of a terrorism-related crime with the help of the U.S.'s sweeping NSA surveillance program. The evidence is pretty shaky and largely the product of shifting ground in wartorn Somalia. Through Moalin's story, New Yorker writer Mattathias Schwartz dismembers the U.S. officials' often-repeated claim that the program has foiled some 50 terrorist plots and makes a convincing case that police work, rather than a data storm, is the answer in fighting terrorism.

These stories resonate with each other in multiple ways and add to an important body of literature that questions any government's knee-jerk manoeuvres for more surveillance in the wake of events like the shooting at Parliament Hill and the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

— Tim Carlson

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Foreign Radical will be developed further as part of an Interdisciplinary Residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in February and will open at The Cultch in Vancouver in April.