By What Bar Do We Rise. What Measure Do We Take?

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The play “Bars and Measures” will be leaving Urban Stages located on 30th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues) on November 17. Thereafter will sit in the wings until someone picks up this must see play. Perhaps it should be taken into classrooms to teach our children how to prevent repeating shameful history.  Interestingly, in music, bars, and/or measures is a way of dividing music. By dividing music into bars/measures it provides a regular reference point for identifying locations within a piece of music, making written music easier to follow.

The production written by Idris Goodwin and directed by Kristan Seemal demonstrates the ways of dividing people and in doing so inspires the cast to do a superb job in their roles. Starring Shabazz Green as Bilal; Rodrick Lawrence as Bilal's brother Eric; Abraham Makany (Wes, et al) and Salma Shaw (Sylvia/defense attorney/reporter). Bars and Measures is the story of two musician brothers. The older brother Bilal, likes the camaraderie of brotherhood and teachings of the Muslim sect therefore adopts the faith. However, his membership eventually leads to his arrest.

Eric, the younger brother believing in his brother's innocence is desperate to get his older brother free. Meanwhile, as a classical pianist, he works with and becomes romantically interested in Sylvia, a talented singer who happens to be Muslim. The brothers are linked by their love of music. Eric plays  classical primarily and his brother Bilal is a jazz bassist who is teaching his brother how to play and love jazz from his prison cell. How Bilal got arrested is open to one's point of view. One can see Bilal as a big mouth who talked himself into prison more so than any criminal action he took to get there.   The viewer also must examine America and the methods it set in place after the events of the World Trade Center.  Methods that have reduced America's professed values to hypocrisy and in some cases entrapment.

However, as the trial proceeds, Eric swallows some of the rhetoric and begins to blame his brother when he is convicted. He tells Bilal he is at fault for his own imprisonment because he changed his name and adopted the Muslim religion. He also turns his anger on the Muslim people and thus on his budding relationship with Sylvia.

This is a play created in fiction however has become the true story of far too many individuals caught up in the aftermath and hysteria of 911.

The hypocrisy is played out via America's search for terrorists around the world specifically targeting Muslims while ignoring its own homegrown terrorists, i.e, white supremacists and KKK whose acts of terror have led to murder, assaults, intimidation, church and cross burning. However, there is a history of these American terrorists walking away from their deeds serving no time. It also lies within our pretense of freedom of religion. Christianity is America's official religion with subtle implications that other religions are less than. Timothy McVeigh, a Christian, committed an act of terrorism via the Oklahoma bombing, but no one suggested all Christians should be under suspicion.  We look back to a shameful history when Jews were once made scapegoats. Are we now doing the same to Muslims and immigrants?

Since 911, Muslim people, who have lived in and worshiped in our midst for years are suddenly branded suspects. Non-Americans whom our Statue of Liberty welcomed wholeheartedly are now caged and held back at the borders by an illegitimate president whose bigotry is apparent and whose rhetoric encourages hatred. Concerns of fascism infiltrating our country have suddenly become a real possibility.

So to what bar does America now rise and/or by what measure does it hold itself accountable?

Has the hysteria escalated into going in search of enemies and then entrapping them if there is little evidence? In Bilal's case he was boisterous and donated money to the mosque. Which is not unusual for the faithful of any religion to do. Heck, the collection plate is passed every Sunday. Yet if you are looking for something, anything, suddenly whatever someone who is under suspicion does, is suspect. Cause for arrest under the Patriot Act which violates the 4th and 6th amendments. The Constitution says the government cannot conduct a search without obtaining a warrant and showing probable cause to believe that the person has committed or will commit a crime. Under the Patriot Act those safeguards are ignored. The 6th amendment guarantees a fair and speedy trial. However under Section 412 of the Patriot Act suspects are detained without judicial review. The Patriot Act also infringes on citizen's rights to freedom of speech. Americans have to ask themselves how many rights are they willing to give up before they find they have no rights at all.

The play Bars and Measures gives the viewer pause to think. To ask ourselves where is America heading. Something we need to take a long and hard look at before we head down the road of no return.

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