Films wield great power over people; cinematic images are forever burned into memory and imagination – even if the memories implanted are false, not based on true facts – but on a sophisticated and biased manipulation of reality.
I have just watched “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” twice. This is Mira Nair’s new film about a soulful and handsome Pakistani man who once believed in the American Dream and who succeeded brilliantly as a super-capitalist, but who is forced to abandon corporate America, return home to become, perhaps, a “reluctant” fundamentalist. I write “perhaps” because Nair leaves us wondering about whether such a smart and sympathetic fellow would actually order hostage taking, torture, and murder for a “fundamentalist” cause.
Why does her hero leave America and turn against it? Because, immediately post 9/11, Changez Khan, played by Riz Ahmed, is detained and, horrifyingly, strip-searched at the airport; thereafter, he is subjected to anti-Muslim physical and verbal violence on the street; then, he is arrested again by police officers as a potential Muslim terrorist; finally, Changez is exploited and betrayed by Erica, his wealthy American girlfriend-artist, (played by Kate Hudson), who uses their intimate relationship as the subject of her new Art Installation about the exotic Other.
Nair has used every cliché possible to manipulate our emotions into siding with Changez and not with the CIA in Pakistan who are trying to rescue an American professor who has, “perhaps,” been kidnapped by Changez and his associates. But the journalist, (played by Liev Schreiber), and the murdered American professor are really evil CIA spooks in disguise. We are not meant to sympathize with them at all.
I believe that some Americans harbor anti-Muslim prejudice and that this is wrong; many Americans try hard not to do so. However, it is also true that 97 percent of the FBI’s Most Wanted terrorists are Muslims.
Both things are true. We must wrestle with both realities at the same time.
I believe that some innocent Muslim-Americans have been brutally and unfairly targeted, treated with suspicion and hatred, especially right after 9/11 or after the Boston Bombing. This is wrong and it pains me. However, I strongly doubt that each and every kind of relentless, non-stop injustice that Nair’s “reluctant fundamentalist” is shown as having endured has been similarly endured by many Muslims in America.
Despite allegations by the Muslim Brotherhood in America (CAIR and ISNA), statistics do not support an escalation in alleged “Islamophobia” here. World headlines do support an escalation of anti-infidel, anti-Western, anti-Israeli, and anti-American hatred in the Islamic world – and of the most toxic kind.
Filmmakers keep turning out films that depict America and most specifically the CIA and American military forces as cruel, evil, and racist and which glorify the offended dignity of innocent Muslims as a way of justifying the nihilistic terror that Muslims are unleashing, globally, first against other Muslims, second, against infidels. Remember Syriana (2005), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Babel (2006), The Kingdom (2007), Rendition (2007), and Amreeka (2009)?
In Hollywood, the most dangerous Islamists are the new native-American Indians. America is perennially General Custer – but on steroids. If Muslim immigrants engage in sudden jihad syndrome with only the internet to inspire and guide them, (The Ft Hood shooter, the Boston bombers), it is somehow America’s fault because we did not help such immigrants assimilate. If the Boston bombers had received even more welfare, scholarships, food stamps, and immediate citizenship, they would not have embraced terrorism as their most powerful form of self-expression.
This is a Big Lie and a dangerous one at that.
If America is always to blame, why did Afghan warlords turn on their own people so barbarically? Why did ethnic Arab Muslims turn on black African Muslims and Christians in the Sudan? Why did Khomeini and his successors turn so viciously against their own people and against Muslims in Iraq? Why has Assad murdered 70,000-100,000 of his own (predominantly Muslim and Christian) citizens?
The Islamic nations, the world’s filmmakers and journalists, the “international community,” do not seem to care about the Muslim victims of Muslim terrorism. They care only when Americans or Israelis are the killers.
This is another kind of lethal racism.
If we are truly anti-racists and not merely anti-Western, we would have more sympathy for the millions of innocent Muslim civilians who have been slaughtered and maimed by Islamist jihadists – and less of a need to present Muslims who have turned to military jihad so sympathetically.
Author Bio: Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at City University of New York. She is a best- selling author, a legendary feminist leader, a psychotherapist and an expert courtroom witness