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Frighten Us Into Submission

Seduction

by MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE

The stage was almost dark, quiet, but we could see 36 (Erma counted) tiered boxes with red curtains. Each was bordered with globes that were illuminated softly. Suddenly, a stringed instrument broke the silence as the lights brightened and the curtains of one of the boxes opened to reveal a cross-legged, turban-wearing musician playing the kamancheh. Then another curtain opened. Another musician behind that curtain. And another. And another.

The Sisterhood sat in a North Carolina concert hall Monday night, transported to an exotic world. Our jaws dropped. The Manganiyars, a 43-member troupe spanning three generations, are from Rajasthan, a desert region in India. Their performance suitably is called The Manganiyar Seduction. Seduction, yes—the visuals and music are alluring. During the extravaganza, a dancing conductor lead the musicians. He’d face the performers, then turn to the audience, back to the musicians, to the audience, clicking castanets and encouraging the audience to clap hands, mimicking the castanet-ing. Gracefully twirling, leaping, landing, this artist was an 80-minute, cardio-vascular demonstration interrupted only once when director Roysten Abel took the stage near the show’s end.

Abel told a story. Explained that most of the musicians are Muslim but also worship Hindu deities. With equal devotion, they sing to both religions, emphasizing the troupe’s pluralism.

This is the group’s fourth visit to America, a destination they love. First trip, a few members were detained by Homeland Security, questioned a couple of hours, and then released. Each subsequent entry to the United States has become more difficult. When they arrived for this recent tour, many more musicians were held by security and detained seven hours. After relating this, Abel gestured towards the red curtains, lifted an arm to his fellow travelers, looked out at us, and asked, “Who would think these men are a threat?”

“Who would think these men are a threat?” I said this over and over to myself. And I sat there, thinking of the roundup of Muslims after 9/11, the suspicion directed at anyone wearing a turban, the prejudice, the Patriot Act, the burning of mosques, the increase in hate crimes that underscored/underscores our fragile social fabric and the swiftness with which this fabric has eroded.

Twelve years after September 11, 2001, the war on terror has metastasized, devastating cultures, creating wastelands, and inspiring hatred and condemnation of the US.

Drone attacks are immoral yet commonplace, regularly incinerating the innocent.

President Obama has a kill list and meets on Tuesdays to decide who dies.

An organization called the Joint Special Operations Command reports directly to the White House and is empowered to execute operations worldwide.

At Guantanamo, more than 160 prisoners, many of whom have been cleared for release, are being held and tortured.

Later, at home, I considered the question, “Who would think these men are a threat?” The answer is clear: a government requiring demonization of a population, lawmakers controlled by multinational corporate greed, and the ignorant.

The recipe for totalitarianism stipulates fear, obedience, and nationalism. The people MUST be afraid, so cowed that when a whistleblower courageously exposes an invasive surveillance network or war crimes, some defend, plenty have no comment, and others sigh hopelessly. Peace and justice activists call for petition signing and rallies, anything to end the abuses.

Yes, The Manganiyar Seduction musicians love to come to America. I stare at that word Seduction and gasp at its meaning—the lush and poetically gorgeous. It’s likely that Homeland Security will detain a greater number of the Manganiyars their fifth trip here. I look again at Seduction, this time seeing a different connotation, the sinister, a treachery—the government’s manipulation of terms, like “thwart” and “terrorist attack”, to seduce and frighten us into submission.

Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com.