29 March 2015

Back from Timbuktu: what more can Muslims say?

This weekend I went to see the Oscar-nominated Mauritanian movie Timbuktu, a scathing portrait of Islamist tyranny from Muslim director Abderrahman Sissako. In my review at Mondo 70 I wrote that Timbuktu is the movie American opinionators supposedly have wanted to see for a longtime: an eloquent denunciation of Islamism from a Muslim. Even taking an inevitable language barrier into consideration -- Timbuktu is one of the most polyglot movies I've ever seen -- you'd think the American media would publicize this picture more for its "this is the enemy" quality. But the movie probably lost what chance it had at that kind of push when it lost the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film to Poland's Ida. Yet the more I think of it, the more I figure Americans wouldn't be satisfied with Timbuktu anyway. They might appreciate its portrayal of the many petty ways Islamists can plague a community, and the film is compelling enough on a personal level to persuade viewers that most Muslims are as bothered by busybody jihadi types as we would be. That's what we want Muslims to say, right? Right -- but it's really only part of what we want they to say. Leaving aside the Christianists here who'd really want Muslims to renounce their religion, I suspect most Americans are less interested in whether the average Muslim likes Islamists than in whether he likes us. For such people it won't be enough for Muslims to denounce Islamism in all its forms, even on a daily basis. We say we want them to denounce extremism, but what we really want, in many cases, is for them to endorse the U.S., while some would go even further and demand that they endorse Israel. Sure, these poor slobs in Mali (the location of the picture) may be sick and tired of Islamists and their bullying regulations, but for all we know they may still hate the U.S., the Jews, etc. Remember how surprised Senator Cruz was last year to learn that Syrian or Iraqi Christians, regardless of their persecution by the self-styled Islamic State, somehow did not love Israel. Recall how his empathy for them dried up instantly. That's how it'll probably be for Muslims who profess to be enemies of our enemies without being friends of our friends. George W. Bush's rule still applies, I fear: you may be against the Islamists, but if you're not with us, you're against us just the same, and if you suffer at Islamist hands as the people in Timbuktu do, maybe that's God's will, or it's just what you deserve.

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