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Lantern’s ‘The Island’ (3rd comment)BY: Jackie Atkins 06.02.2012
Island prisons like Robben Island and Guantánamo share one notable characteristic: They never solve the problems that created them.
The Island. By Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona; Peter DeLaurier directed. Lantern Theater production through June 10, 2012 at St. Stephen’s Theater, 923 Ludlow St. (215) 829-0395 or www.lanterntheater.org.
Out of sight, out of mind:
Ostensibly, The Island is a play about Robben Island prison, where dissidents were banished under South Africa’s Apartheid regime. But a 2,000-pound gorilla also occupies the Lantern Theater’s stage. Its name is Guantánamo.
Islands have traditionally been places for banishment. Napoleon was squired off to Elba and St. Helena; Dreyfus and Papillion were sent to Devil’s Island; lepers were dumped on Molokai; Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and the Puerto Rican Nationalists were locked up on Alcatraz; and today we escort Muslim jihadists to the American wonderland of Gitmo.
These and other island prisons share one notable characteristic: They never solve the problems that created them.
The best way to eliminate pesky people, of course, is to chop off some heads. But doing it right would require thousands or millions of beheadings, which no civilized society could abide. Far better just to remove the menacing, the dangerous, the frightening and the scary out of view— preferably very far out of view. That way we don’t have to confront some obvious truths about ourselves.
Embarrassed by Napoleon
The Afrikaners who comprised South Africa’s white tribe were apprehensive about the numerical superiority of the country’s black tribes, so sequestering black dissidents who challenged white supremacy enabled them to believe that they had everything under control. Europeans— especially the French and Beethoven— were embarrassed by their early support of Napoleon and preferred not to be reminded of him. (Frenchmen couldn’t accept the truth that not all of their own were civilized.) Today it’s Americans who can’t tolerate the notion that not everyone out there loves us.
How much easier to just banish anyone who speaks an inconvenient truth, and poof! The inconvenient truth doesn’t exist.
I don’t suggest that Muslim terrorists pose no threat to Americans. But will the “Out of sight, out of mind” mentality reduce the danger? As Solzhenitsyn told us after emerging from eight years in the Gulag, when you concentrate dissidents in one place, you simply strengthen the resolve of your opposition.
Who tamed leprosy?
Napoleon, after all, was first exiled to Elba, and you know how long that lasted. (After Waterloo, his idle exile on St. Helena gave him time to plot another comeback, which was curtailed only by his early death from stomach cancer.) Adverse publicity prompted the French to relinquish Devils Island, and its abandonment didn’t increase the French crime rate. Leprosy was eventually tamed, but not because of Father Damien’s settlement on Molokai.
So what is to be done to quell jihadists? If history is a lesson, putting them in one place on a rented portion of Cuba is unlikely to work. There isn’t an island big enough to house everyone with a gripe against the U.S. So eventually you have to let people go. That leaves you with two choices:
— Kill them on the battlefield— an option that invariably engenders more anger against you than existed previously. So really you’re down to just on choice:
— Address and mitigate their grievances.
Did Robben Island crush South African blacks into submission? Did it do an effective job of concealing their mistreatment from the rest of the world? Or did the atrocity of isolation from humanity only heighten the world’s resolve to eradicate apartheid once and for all?♦
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