Shakespeare in Mosul

Any man who wants to line up women to check out their hidden parts is certainly not averting his gaze

Shakespeare in Mosul

Act I: bigots make bad neighbours.In the first act, the principal character, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, makes his appearance on stage in the flowing black robes of a war-cleric. He is known by his kunya (name given in respect to an elder) ‘bad knees’ and is seen climbing the stairs in the manner of a man whose time is rapidly degrading and whose end is near. As he delivers a fiery oration, a magnificent digital presentation displays a collage of images from Mosul. Convoys of cars are seen leaving the city. Bakeries are closed and shops are shuttered. Schools are vacant and only men are noted outside the homes.

As the principal character leaves the stage we are greeted with a spectacular amplification of music from the orchestra pit. The percussion section releases a cadence that rivets our attention to the dozens of men marching onto the stage. This is accompanied by a spectacular display of pyrotechnics with multi-coloured flashes of light and smoke. Gold and silver glitter is released from the catwalks to represent the looting of 500 billion Iraqi dinars from the central Mosul bank. The audience is then engulfed in the action as the men move from the stage and into the aisles to dance to War Pigs by Black Sabbath (from the live performance track, Paris 1970). With weapons twirling and aiming their rifles at the heads of the audience, ‘Shakespeare in Mosul’ becomes a spectacular adult entertainment venue.

The act concludes with a decree against Christians. The stage is changed to a calmer setting: a narrow street in the city of Mosul. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Carol of the Bells is the backdrop as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi makes his movement back onto the stage. He nails signs onto the doors of all of the Christian homes. He is followed by men who also spray paint the walls of the residences to assure the homes are targeted.

Act II: rapists make bad lovers.

The act opens with the spotlight on a chorus line of males from the ages of 10 through 18. Each man stands with his fist raised. The spotlight shifts to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is standing silently at the back of the stage. As he raises his fist and turns, our attention is directed to the middle of the stage. Females from the age of fertility through the age of childbearing are bound to a roughly hewn post. Their wrists are tethered to the top of the post. The orchestra plays the ‘sword dance’, in the tradition of an old Highland dance, the Ghillie Callum. This is an ancient war dance of the Scottish Gael and is said to find its historical timestamp back to King Malcolm Canmore (Shakespeare’s Macbeth). Today the dance is typically done with one dancer performing over two crossed swords. ‘Bad knees’ is unable to perform the intricate steps so the understudy is used for the sword dance. As he performs, the protagonist pulls a decree from under his turban and his shouting is heard in the background.

As this scene comes to a conclusion, we are greeted by six ballerinas. They begin to dance to the work of world-renowned composer Tammy Swofford. This is the hastily composed, ‘Rapists do not make good lovers’ sonata. It is dark and brooding, building to an intensity that heightens emotions to new levels. The piece is based on Ms Swofford’s conviction that the resurfacing of an edict of the ISIS leadership in 2013 holds dire consequences for two million girls and women. The edict calls for the female genital mutilation of women. There is a difference of opinion regarding interpretation of the edict/fatwa under current conditions. But since rape and forced marriages now abound in Mosul, it is but a small jump to imagine further horror inflicted upon the gentler sex. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is now presented as who he really is: a rapist at heart. Any man who wants to line up women to check out their hidden parts is certainly not averting his gaze. It is a command that was first given to the men, by the way. However, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a major lust hound. When sex is reduced to mutilation (remember, this edict does exist, it is just being recycled), it is an act of the powerful against the powerless. Sexual mutilation can be a component of rape.

Rapists make bad lovers. They are never interested in providing a rich, emotional and physically satisfying experience for the woman. It is better to clip the woman and reduce her to the level of importance of the bed or, perhaps, the dresser in the room. She is just, well, furniture. She is incubator, cook and cleaner. Not worth much, in the eyes of the rapist who is never a good lover anyway. So it is that the composition finds primary creative release with the use of violins and wind instruments. It is the plaintive cry of the women that is heard in this piece. I am channeling that sound, straight out of Mosul.

As the second act comes to a close, the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra plays the aria ‘My Beautiful Baghdad’. This will be their last performance of the season, perhaps the last performance ever. With the oppression of women, music, laughter and joy disappear. And the protagonist is just getting started.

Curtain call: the principal character makes his farewell as he plummets down a large slide into the orchestra pit. It has been converted into a cavern dancing with flames.

Instructions for the audience: please withhold your applause until the descent of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi down the slide. You may pick up your free autographed ‘God’s little messenger boy’ turban at the exit. Yes, it is free. Thank you for attending our performance tonight.

Understudy: choose a terrorist.

Wardrobe mistress: non-state terror sponsors.

Orchestra: the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra.


The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at