Moroccan cinema tackles extremism
Moroccan cinema is witnessing heated debates around the relation between works of art and the stereotypical image of Islamists as three films that have sparked broad discussions since their arrival into theatres.
The three films are “Death for Sale” directed by Fawzi Bensaidi, “The Unforgiven” by Mohsen Al-Basri and “The Road to Kabul” for director Ibrahim Shkairi.
These films join the list of previous Moroccan cinema experiments that dared to approach the extreme Islamist model and draw features from it. The three films were received with intense fervour, and succeeded in reaping prizes at national and international festivals, while cinema artists’ opinions about the films varied, apart from comments by religious figures.
“The Unforgiven” had a shocking effect on Moroccan society, considering the sour language it uses that serves the topic of the film which focuses on Muslim extremists. The scenes tell the story of an extremist group that kidnaps Moroccan stage actors and holds them hostage in a prohibited area in an attempt by Al-Basri to dissect the phenomenon of religious extremism and other radical groups in order to view the issue in its real picture and study its new dimensions taking shape.
“The Road to Kabul” touches a fireball of topics where the religious and social dimensions intercede in the issue of jihad or struggle, through scenes that depict a generation of Moroccan youth that immigrated to Afghanistan during the American invasion whose dreams about a heavenly hereafter were shattered upon the rock of world reality that is full of contradictions. The film scenes revolved around religious extremism and the confusion that characterises young people’s attitudes.
In an interview with Arabstoday Fawzi Bensaidi, the filmmaker of “Death for Sale” said that the religious extremism that hides under Islam has gained such a fearful shape, which other directors and himself tried to employ the camera to draw its main features. It is an attempt to reveal the dangers of such a model on the Moroccan society, and monitor the ghost of religious extremism, while at the same time inferring solutions and defences for the beliefs and values which were distorted by this model intruding on the Moroccan moderate one.
Mohsen Al-Basri was proud of his film experience in “The Unforgiven” as he thinks it presents a different viewpoint from the one put forward by the West in their view of religious extremism. He added that “religious extremism poses a real danger for everyone” and considered it a time bomb that may blow up at any moment as in the May 16th Casablanca incidents and the Argana Café event in Morocco. Al-Basri mentioned that religious extremism did not receive its fair share of honest exploration in cinema although it is an existing fact, and its followers are in constant growth.
While professionals working in the cinema sector defend the freedom of artistic creativity as an nonnegotiable principle, conservative streams see that some artists’ focus on religion and violence themes have no other target but to tickle instincts, and beg for audience attention by creating debate around their works outside of cinema halls.
Speaking to Arabstoday, Mohammed Lameen, former head of the scholarly council in Wagda, said that “extremism is a global phenomenon that was not created by Muslims. European societies witnessed the rise of the extreme right and are not free of scenes of fanaticism for one’s opinion or beliefs, through negating others and even killing them.
Lameen added that this new type of art has certain targets and is supported by foreign finance to intensify the idea of “the terrorist Muslim”. In their overall, he clarified, these works stem from justifications of realism but they tend to magnify and provoke the Islamic stream and drag them into political arguments and struggles that stimulate the public to reserve a seat in the cinema to follow the discussed films.
Since most Moroccan cinema productions depend on funding from the Cinema Center, Lameen finds it sad that public money detracted from taxes is used in propagating viewpoints that do not reflect the moderate Moroccan who instinctively sympathises with all that represents Islam.
Many of those working in the cinema field disagree with such view, however. Critic Said Al-Ibrahimi says that “the three films have elements of strength that only an objective eye can see. Suffice to say that they tackled a sensitive topic at a precise political stage when Islamists have arrived to the top of Moroccan government”.
The critic believed a large part of this debate was not purely artistic but was dictated by other considerations, referring to the fact that those who caused this storm around these films made free publicity for these films that served taboo filmmakers more than it harmed them. Although Ibrahimi sees in these argument-provoking films a move away from the Moroccan self, and much attempt to please the European eye in a way that suits the francophone culture of the directors of this generation, he denies anyone whoever they are, the right to question them about their artistic choices or prevent their films from show in the name of religion or ethics.
Cinema critic Khaled Al-Khodari thought the prevalence of the negative image about Islamists in a number of Moroccan films is owing to their directors being influenced by the stereotypical view prevalent in Europe. He added that they are films that attempted to sing along the tune of the “war on terror” but came out below standard when they allowed direct speech-giving to preside over the artistic vision. Khodari further points that these films also stem from ideological approaches that reject the other and exclude them, what explains the failure by their directors to tackle the issue of religious and intellectual extremism dramatically, and caused them to approach the topic in a superficial way that doesn’t suit a Moroccan cinema that seeks to market itself globally.