many throats my hands ached. So I switched to stabbing the neck.’’ Sambath does not tell most of the people he interviews about his personal experiences of the Khmer Rouge. His father was killed for expressing unhappiness with the nationalisation of his property. Then his mother was forced to marry a member of the Khmer Rouge and died in childbirth not long afterwards. Later on his brother was killed for refusing to take part in the nightly ritualistic murders carried out between 1975 and the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s dissolution in 1979 after the Vietnamese invasion. Occasionally, Enemies of the People does seem to meander a little, losing focus for minutes at a time, but ultimately it is a fascinating and moving documentary bringing home the true horror of the killing fields. Charlotte Bence
Theatre Blood and Gifts National Theatre Until 2 November
J T Rogers’s Blood and Gifts was initially presented in shortened form as part of the Tricycle Theatre’s The Great Game season and has now been expanded into a full-length production for the National Theatre. Set between 1981 and 1991, the play shows how US and British efforts to combat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan led them to promote, fund and arm Islamic resistance movements within the country. As such, it is a timely reminder of the extent to which the problems that Western imperialism is now facing are of its own creation. Rogers skilfully creates an atmosphere of paranoia and shifting loyalties. This is a slick political thriller in which the tension of a proxy war is combined with a generous dose of knowing humour. The portrayal of the protagonist, a CIA operative, as essentially
well intentioned seems naive. But a powerful and restrained performance from Lloyd Owen certainly convinces, conveying the predicament of an honourable man trapped within a maze of conflicting imperial interests. Inevitably, the current situation in Afghanistan is never far from the audience’s mind. Rogers encourages this. There are comments on the nature of the “special relationship” between Britain and the US. The British ambassador makes joking references to what might happen if the weapons the West had paid for came to be used against them. More movingly, the Russian ambassador’s anger at those within the Kremlin who prefer to allow bloodshed to continue rather than face the shame of admitting defeat is all too relevant to today. However, these important points are undermined by Rogers’s refusal to truly confront the issue of Islamism. The reallife figure of CIA-funded warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar dominates the play. There are references to his many atrocities throughout, but neither he nor his supporters ever actually appear onstage. The only Afghans who Rogers is willing to portray are “moderate” Islamists. In a play where all the characters, from CIA operative to Russian spy, are presented in a sympathetic light, to simply leave the more extreme elements offstage seems to imply that they defy explanation. Rogers is falling back on tired stereotypes of “good” and “bad” Muslims. The cast is uniformly excellent, and the play is certainly to be admired for seeking to remind people of the extent to which the US and Britain are responsible for the rise of extremism within Afghanistan. But by leaving the extremist voice out of the play, Rogers characterises it in terms of an unknowable other, an evil, incomprehensible force. In doing so, he risks legitimising the Afghanistan war itself. Matt Williamson
Five things to get or see this month
Guantanamo: if the light goes out Flowers Gallery, London, until 13 November
South of the Border DVD
Oliver Stone’s take on Latin America, co-written with Tariq Ali, is a powerful and entertaining film in a style reminiscent of Michael Moore.
Black & beautiful/ Soul & madness South Bank Centre, 22 October
The poet and music critic Amiri Baraka, known then as Leroi Jones, articulated better than most the rage and the passion of the Black Power Movement. In 1968 he launched his Jihad record label and recorded marginalised musicians of the free jazz movement. Jihad produced only three records, the last of which is Black & Beautiful /Soul & Madness. An original copy of Black & Beautiful/Soul & Madness is as rare as hen’s teeth. But this classic political recording is now reissued. Baraka makes a rare British appearance when he appears alongside Jean “Binta” Breeze at the South Bank Centre.
This is England ‘86 DVD, out 11 October
Shane Meadows’ four part series made for Channel 4 brings together the cast of his wonderful award winning film, This is England to follow them caption three years on.
“When you are suspended by a rope you can recover but every time I see a rope I remember. If the light goes out unexpectedly in a room, I am back in my cell,”—Binyam Mohamed, Prisoner #1458. This exhibition and new book of the same name look at the experience of prisoners in Guantanamo. There are images of their cells and of the homes some of them have been released to, along with pictures of the homes of the US personnel on the base. He also includes images of letters sent to British resident Omar Deghayes during his six year imprisonment. Most were from people he had never met, he never got to see the originals—even the backs of envelopes and blank sheets of paper were redacted, photocopied or scanned.
Black Watch Touring until January 2011
This affecting play takes its audience on a journey to the dark heart of the Iraq war, and the rough reality of life as a squaddie in the Black Watch battalion. Having premiered to great acclaim in 2006, Black Watch has been revived, with tour dates in Scotland and London until January. Definitely worth a look if you missed it first time around. Socialist Review | OCTOBER 2010 |33
Published on Oct 8, 2010