FOM LEFT:Karen DeYoung and Sulayman Al-Bassam

Inside Media: Richard III an Arab Tragedy

March 07, 2009

Guests: Sulayman Al-Bassam and Karen DeYoung

By Lesette R. Heath, special programs coordinator

The European press has called Sulayman Al-Bassam’s work "highly unpredictable" and "full of surprises." The same could be said for his recent adaptation of William Shakespeare’s "Richard III," which explores contemporary Arab politics, religion and culture and is based loosely on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s rise to power.

The writer and theater director said his "Richard III: An Arab Tragedy," which debuted at the Kennedy Center March 6 as part of the Arabesque Festival, offers a modern look at Arabs. According to Al-Bassam, the characters even use the news media in their "journey towards tyranny."

"In many ways, theater and news are similar," he said. "They are both a means of trying to comprehend aspects of the truth but very different in the way in which they work and develop. Ambiguity in the theater is a virtue to me. In news, one aims for objectivity."

Washington Post associate editor Karen DeYoung agreed. DeYoung is also the paper’s senior diplomatic correspondent and served as its bureau chief in Latin America and London.

"You have to get a wide group of voices into your story, so you’re giving as true a picture as you can," she said. "Being a correspondent, you push yourself all the time. [But] in a place like Iraq, you tend to gravitate toward people who speak English, because that’s the easy thing to do."

Al-Bassam noted that in the last 10 to 15 years, the role of the media in the Arab world has expanded significantly.

"The explosion of satellite television has changed the levels of freedom available for people to explore many issues. Al-Jazeera is a leading example," he said.

Yet the nature of the region’s news offered to the Western world is still disturbing for Al-Bassam.

"In our region, what is newsworthy is violence, assassinations. The images offer a distorted lens," he said.

"Especially if that’s all we see," DeYoung added.

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