>> Saturday, December 19, 2009
Okay so I took a Arabic Cinema in Translation for my minor this semester. And the final paper was 10 pages long based on at least one movie we haven't watched and comparing it to the themes of movies we did. I had to do a little compromising for the sake of the class. I also went on a page long rant. This post is long but once you start reading it you won't be able to stop. Many people found it funny.
This paper will be about The Destiny and The Victorious Saladin, both directed by Youssef Chahine. The themes that will be discussed are religion and why people do what they do. This essay will also discuss women.
One of the topics we talked about in class was what the causes are that make people become terrorists. Many reasons were given on why people take radical actions: to fight oppression, discrimination, sexual deprivation and religion. The films The Destiny and The Victorious Saladin gave two more reasons: failure and greed. In The Destiny, the Caliph’s second son is viewed as a complete failure because he spends his time dancing around with gypsies and his father always chastises him. He eventually feels unloved and joins a fundamentalist sect. Furthermore there is a scene in the film where many of the boys from the fundamentalist cult are on trial and the mother tells Ibn Rushd that the boy sleeps all the time and then all of the sudden he is trying to change his family to become righteous. The boy was lazy and a failure and the only thing he had going for him was to become a “shaykh” or righteous person who condemns everyone else. I personally believe people become extremists so they can chastise others on not being religious before others can chastise them for being failures.
Out of all the reasons given as to why people turn to extremism specifically Islamic extremism, personally I have seen it is because of people being failures and having nowhere else to turn but religion. They cry and their mother’s hit them, their father’s did not love them, and they blame everyone else for being a failure but their own selves. Youssef Chahine, I believe, was completely accurate in his portrayal as to why people become extreme. However he does not accurately portray why people take violent action, there is a difference in extremism and terrorism. Extremism is what we see the protagonist in Yacobian Building originally turning to, a man who overnight became religious and then wants to change everyone around him, such as pushing his girlfriend to read his book. In The Destiny we see the Caliph’s younger son join a religious sect and then it seems as if overnight he believes everyone to be wrong and damned. He even tells his friend who has been stabbed in the throat and is in bed rest to get up and pray. That to me is extremism. It eventually leads to the extremist participating in an act of terror due to the character going through a tough ordeal. The character in Yacobian building was raped in prison and then got hold of weapons, so he took his revenge. While he was on the extremist path, one does not need to be an overzealous extremist to become a terrorist. As we see in Paradise Now the characters were not religious at all and did not want to change their friends or family, they just wanted it all to end. One wanted to redeem his family honor, the other wanted equality. In Terrorism and Kebab the main character actually gets into a fight with the religious figure. All the sets of characters from these three films have reasons to become terrorists that have nothing to do with religion. Only the character in Yacobian Building was on the extremist path but the spark for him joining the extremists and the spark for him taking violent action were two different events.
Comparing how people get onto the extremist path, I believe The Destiny is more accurate. From personal experience it is definitely because people are failures and have nothing else going for them. However the Caliph’s son did not have a reason or motivation to become a terrorist or someone involved in an assassination plot. The motivation to become an extremist was not there in Yacobian Building but the motivation for becoming violent was. I do not believe being rejected by the police academy because of discrimination makes someone religious overnight but rather it is a constant string of failures and the unwillingness to take responsibility for those failings. Yacobian Building is correct on why people take violent action and The Destiny is correct on why people become extremely religious overnight.
The best example I can give is that the Muslim Brotherhood were extreme in their beliefs. But after being jailed so many times, one of them by the name of Sayyid Qutb wrote Milestone in jail and many members of the Brotherhood understood the book as telling them to take up violent action against the government. However if the attacks on the brotherhood and the jailing of many of its members did not happen then the book never would have been written and the violent responses never would have happened and the Brotherhood would just be overzealous people who were just on a missionary cause.
Another theme discussed when we watched Paradise Now was the motive behind terrorism is not religion but religion is used as an excuse. One character want to either gain freedom from this life or equality and the other wants to redeem the honor of his family. However the characters around them support their course of action using religion. For example the plotter keeps talking about heaven. But the plotters themselves just wanted a revolution in which they could become leaders afterwards. If they truly believed in what they preached why did they not carry on the suicide missions? The same theme was talked about during The Yacobian Building. Absolutely everything these people did they justified it with religion. However the main reason behind their actions was pure selfishness. In Terrorism and Kebab we see a religious figure that uses prayer as a way to get out of doing work. Then he preaches to an attractive young lady that she should cover and be religious but it is soon made clear that he is attracted to her and wants to be with her. He used religion to start the conversation and was hoping to get something more. The girl’s question to him was if he really cared about people changing why did he not preach to the others? This exposed his true motives. Similarly in The Victorious Saladin, King Richard originally came to fight Saladin because he believed Saladin was oppressing the Christians. When he realized Saladin was a good man he still stayed and fought because of the glory. The King of France and Lady Virginia kept claiming it was for Christendom that they had joined the Crusades, however the King of France really wanted money and Virginia wanted revenge on Saladin for killing her husband and the throne of Jerusalem. If they were religious then they would have not killed the emissaries of King Richard sent to Saladin in an attempt to frame Saladin or kill other Christians because they were Arabs. Furthermore if Lady Virginia was religious she would not have made up lies about Saladin to gain the help of the Christian kings. In The Destiny Sheikh Riad and the leader of the sect who is referred to as “Angel” put on a façade on their followers that they are the religious and that Ibn Rushd is the deviant. They recruited people into their sect and tell them that they need to save everyone from the hellfire. Their way of saving everyone from the hellfire is by being condescending and extreme towards everyone else. However the true motive behind their actions is the lust for power and Ibn Rushd is just a distraction. The sect leaders hidden agenda was to overthrow Al-Mansur the Caliph of Andalusia. These religious leaders who condemn their fellow Muslims actually make an alliance with the Christians who want to over throw the Caliph whose rule this sect is supposedly protecting from deviants.
Youssef Chahine clearly has a grudge against religious authority when he made The Destiny. The most important book that Ibn Rushd wrote according to The Destiny is the one he wrote refuting Imam Ghazzali’s Incoherence of Philosophers entitled Incoherence of Incoherence. The film claims that the fundamentalist sect follows Ghazzali’s words and believes him to be correct. Is Youssef Chahine attacking the majority of the Muslims living today? Most of the Muslim world accepts Incoherence of Philosophers over Incoherence of Incoherence. Is he trying to say most Muslims are extremists? Furthermore Ghazzali was a supporter of Aristotle. Ibn Rushd wrote a book on Aristotle but was more in line with the Mutazilite school of Islam which was more on Plato’s view of philosophy. In one scene Ibn Rushd asks the Caliph’s son how he is spreading the word of God without knowing chemistry, mathematics and love or philosophy. However Imam Ghazzali also studied and supported the study of those subjects. The only problem he had was in philosophy which he divided into five parts and said four were okay to learn but the fifth part, metaphysics were not beneficial to learn. Since most of the Muslims today do follow the Ghazzalian way, is Youssef Chahine trying to say we do not know these subjects? Furthermore the film suggests that most of the people are with Ibn Rushd and against Ghazzali. In one scene Al-Mansur wants to lock up Ibn Rushd and wants to burn his books. One of the supporters of Ibn Rushd claims ideas live on forever and the dynasty was started on an idea. This scene in the film leads people to believe that these ideas were similar to the ones Ibn Rushd has and that many other people had. However in the time period the film takes place Andalusia is being ruled by the Al-Mohads. Contrary to what Youssef Chahine would have us believe, most of the people and not just the extreme sects in Andalusia at the time believed what Ghazzali believed. In fact a man named Ibn Tumart, who claimed to study under Ghazzali and debated the Al-Moravids because the Al-Moravids believed in anthropomorphism, started the Al-Mohad dynasty. The ideas that the supporter of Ibn Rushd is talking about in the film in real life were Ghazzali’s ideas. It was discussed in class that Youssef Chahine was holding a grudge. This grudge led him to rewrite history and claim that the majority of the Muslims living today and in the past were extremists. The extremists were the likes of Youssef ibn Tashfin who started the Al-Moravid dynasty that the Al-Mohad dynasty, that followed Ghazzali’s teachings, overthrew. The Al-Moravids are the ones who took religious ideas and made them into political and military movements. As we discussed in class, Youssef Chahine clearly held a grudge. However he acted on that grudge in a childish and unscholarly manner with a film that is historically inaccurate and is inconsistent with ideas and the film blames the wrong people.
We also discussed the role of women in the class. In the film The Victorious Saladin the role of women was expanded. The films we watched in class many of the women who played supporting roles did absolutely nothing, whereas in films where they were main character they did something. For example the first film we watched Determination the girl is stuck in a marriage with the butcher and the man saves her by arguing she is still married to him under traditional law. The mother in Call of The Curlew stood there while her daughter was killed. The mother in Nights of the Jackal could have easily stopped the father from being abusive by demanding he not abuse his children or else she will not whistle at night. In Cairo Station the female lead is actually beaten and does not do anything to defend herself and in return makes love to her beater. In The Victorious Saladin the women shown are knights and actually fight. Lady Virginia took part in battle wearing full armor and then went to the Christian kings for help after her army lost in the beginning of the film. Louise was a knight hospitaller and is shown fighting and then becoming a prisoner of war and then a medic. King Richard’s wife also takes an active role.
However all the women who took active roles in The Victorious Saladin are Christians and not Muslim. In fact there are no Muslim women in the film. Is Youssef Chahine trying to tell Muslims something? Is he trying to say that Muslims suppress our women and Christians don’t? In the film there is a Christian character named Issa who is Saladin’s trusted general and is his “swimmer.” He is the love interest of Louise the Knight hospitaller who is on the opposing (Crusaders) side. Historically speaking there was an Issa Al-Awam in Saladin’s army who was a Muslim and not a Christian. Issa Al-Awam was a fisherman who did not want to join the military and his wife Selma kept nagging him about it. Eventually she herself joined the army of Saladin since her husband would not and she became a battlefield medic similar to Louise who was a battlefield medic in the film. Issa Al-Awam felt ashamed that his wife joined the military and he did not so he joined the navy and then because he was a great swimmer he would jump overboard whenever someone or something fell overboard and in turn he was nicknamed Farris al-Bahir or the knight of the ocean. This story is told to many Muslim children to tell them that no matter what they can always somehow help their nation even if they are a fisherman or a woman. Selma the medic’s story is told to young girls everywhere in the Muslim world to let them know they can be anything. Youssef Chahine takes this story makes a fictional Christian character based on Selma and makes Issa into a Christian and makes all Muslim women invisible in his film. What is he trying to do? Is he trying to say the West treats their women better? Is he trying to discourage Muslim girls from being active in the military?
Something we have not discussed in class is race. Youssef Chahine ignores many races in The Destiny and The Victorious Saladin. In The Destiny he shows Christians, Muslims and gypsies. Where are the Jews? Jews held many high positions in Andalusia. Was he trying so hard to show that Muslims are not tolerant that he made the Jews completely invisible because they were a flaw in his argument? All the poets shown in the film are gypsies but there were great Muslim poets in Andalusia and Jewish poetry and the development of Hebrew started in Andalusia. Is he trying to show most Muslims are just war mongers and are power hungry and only a few Muslims enjoy singing and poetry? Most Muslims at the time and today encourage poetry. Also did he not show the Jewish poets, singers and rulers because it would show that the Muslims were tolerant and not all Muslims are fanatics that he was so bent on showing in his film because of his grudge? Also in The Victorious Saladin he keeps repeating that all people are welcomed in Jerusalem but it belongs to the Arabs. What is that suppose to mean? It is holy land and traditionally Muslims believed it belonged to everyone. Furthermore Saladin was a Kurd not an Arab. Is this just a mistake on Chahine’s part or is he a racist?
Both films of Youssef Chahine, The Destiny and The Victorious Saladin have themes we discussed; religious fundamentalism and women. Also watching the film The Destiny it makes it clear just how big of a grudge Youssef Chahine held and it reflected in his rewriting of history.