Encountering conflict: The Crucible and The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif KAREN FORD
October 25, 2010

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DURING the course of his memoir, Najaf Mazari says: ‘‘What do I know of life?’’ For all of us at some point in our lives we are going to be challenged and have our values tested. After everything that Najaf Mazari has been through, including the killing of his family members, leaving his home and homeland, an arduous and uncertain journey across foreign oceans and finally arrival into an unwelcoming new home, he is able to be philosophical.

‘‘Not all of us were able to survive the wars of Afghanistan ... Dreams that were dreamt in Afghanistan have put down roots in the soil of another nation, and today, I see buds forming on the twigs and branches.’’
Throughout this context, what is revealed is the extraordinary way that we can be tested and how we emerge from conflict ‘‘at the other end’’. For Najaf Mazari it was the conflict of surviving a war; for John Proctor in The Crucible it was enduring ignorance and paranoia.
This context is not about the battle, the obvious sign of a conflict, it is about the human behaviour behind the conflict and the consequences of the conflict.
In many respects both protagonists, Mazari and Proctor, were innocents caught up in a conflict that was bigger and more complex than they realised. Both were simple men, trying to exist and provide for their families. Both were fallible, perhaps some may say naive because they trusted the institutions put in place to protect them.
Like them, we put our faith in governments, the law and, for many of us, religion to guide and protect us. However, both Mazari and Proctor’s stories reveal just how those institutions can betray us, and for Proctor, his cry of, ‘‘How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!’’ reveals just how devastating the betrayal can be.
As part of the human race it is inevitable that we will encounter conflict with others. To live harmoniously we attempt to resolve that conflict. But how do we resolve conflict when it is beyond our control? How can we resolve conflict when the actions of others have an impact on us?
What both authors reveal is the importance of inner strength, even when our lives are threatened.
When faced with death, both protagonists reveal a fortitude that makes them heroes. Not because they took up arms and retaliated with guns but because they valued life and their principles.
As readers, the message we take away from both texts is that each of us must recognise our fallibility within the universe and, if we are to remain true to ourselves and our values, we must not give in to the forces that challenge us.
When writing on Context it is important to think outside the square and consider how these texts (and others) can inspire and motivate us as writers. Both Mazari and Arthur Miller have strong messages for their readers. However, their texts do more than just reveal the plight of the individual — both encourage the reader to consider the nature of conflict and how it can affect the individual and the world around them. Both texts also provide a powerful comment about a world that can be cruel and unforgiving.
It is not difficult to find other examples of humans surviving the horror of war: Iraq, Vietnam, two world wars, the Boer War and back to Roman times, and we are fortunate to have individuals who have responded to war with words.
Mazari’s comment could be from any war: ‘‘Walls pock-marked by flying fragments of glass made me think of walls against which people have been shot by firing squads. Anything that showed the impact of the explosion made me feel dizzy and ill. I was, in truth, still full of the fear of that night when the rocket landed.’’
The powerful thing about Mazari’s story is not just his experiences with war but how he chooses to live with the horror. Mazari’s commitment to himself and his family is commendable and, once again, we are presented with the extraordinary capacity for humans to survive a conflict and move on.
From conflict we can choose how we want to live and Mazari’s story reminds readers that out of conflict can come happiness: ‘‘I feel like writing a sign to put on the window of my own shop; a sign written in gold and brown in letters a metre high. And this sign would say, ‘Closed due to the happiness of Najaf Mazari’.’’
When looking at The Crucible, it is not John Proctor’s death that we should remember but why he died and what he died for. As a comment on mass hysteria and its consequences, the play points a finger at those who allow their ignorance and fear to dictate their actions.
‘‘We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!’’
How does the play and witchcraft link to our world? Let’s consider those ‘‘persecuted’’ by society over history: Jews, Christians, homosexuals, Aborigines, slaves, communists, boat people.
Arthur Miller’s play tells the story of a conflict based on ignorance and when we judge before we know. Proctor had no choice but to die because it was his integrity and conscience that was at stake.
When considering these two texts and thinking ‘‘outside the square’’, remember it is not so much the event that is important but what is inside our hearts that leads to the conflict. The lesson from the play is such a simple one: knowledge, understanding and tolerance will end all conflicts. If only we could remember ...
Karen Ford lectures in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne.
Additional resources:
The Crucible Arthur Miller Penguin Classics 2003
The Rugmaker of Mazar-E-Sharif Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman Insight Publications 2008
Walking on Water DVD Dir. Tony Ayres Porchlight Films 2002
‘Bicentennial’ Paul Kelly Paul Kelly Don’t Start Me Talking Lyrics 1984-2004 Allen and Unwin 1999
Rosa Parks Civil Rights
Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself Macmillan 2010