Combating Terrorism through Film

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Mushfiq Murshed

Khuda Key Liye, a film by Shoaib Mansoor, has been heralded as the revival of Pakistani cinema. No doubt the film has had an impact. Why? The cinematic nuances, i.e., cinematography, soundtrack, acting, direction, etc., were definitely commendable for Pakistani standards. The storyline was in parts fragmented, perhaps a result of careless editing.  However, what really made this film a success was the idea and current realities of Pakistan.

The clash between extremist and moderate elements in Pakistan has trampled all boundaries.  Once restricted to rural and tribal areas, it has now crept into the country’s urban existence.  An extreme example of which was when the residents of Islamabad were given a taste of what transpires on a daily basis in the tribal areas by the Abdul-Rashid duo of the Lal Masjid. Abductions, vandalism, oppression, threats of suicide bombings, etc., were thrust onto Pakistani society, all in the name of Islam.

Then came Swat.  Maulana Fazalullah, the leader of Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi was given free rein to propound his obscurantist interpretation of purportedly Islamic doctrine through his illegal FM radio station.  Emboldened by the feeble reaction of the government to the Lal Masjid episode, he became even more voluble in his distortion of Islam.  Militants threatened and blew up girl’s schools in Swat, Video/CD shops were vandalized, barber shops were forced to shut down for shaving beards, Budhist artifacts dating back to the 1st century became prey to extremist venom; all in the name of Islam.

Unfortunately, these are stories of Muslims and Islam that are heard globally.  The distorted interpretation of the religion is more news-worthy than what the moderates profess.  This underlines the need for genuine reform within Muslim society as well as for the international community to understand the rational impulse of Islam and its worldview which is founded on peace and stability.  The negative perception of Muslims predated the Taliban era, especially in the context of the treatment of women and this has been further reinforced by extremist violence.

The Egyptian feminist, Dr. Nawal Saadawi said, as far back as 1990 during a conference on women and power in Montreal, that the greatest strictures against women were to be found first in Judaism and then Christianity and finally in the Quran and that the veiling of women was not peculiar to Islam but was also an inherent part of the Jewish and Christians doctrines.  There was uproar.  Reporting on the conference, Gwynne Dyer wrote in the Toronto Star:  “Christian and Jewish women were not going to sit around being discussed in the same category as those wicked Muslims.”

The ongoing violence against women perpetrated by those professing Islam cannot be denied.  Though Quranic injunctions stress the equality between men and women, the latter have been denied their rights.  To an extent the plight of Muslim women has been justifiably brought into focus.  Their relegation to pariah status is not only prevalent in tribal Islam but is also evident in the settled areas of Pakistan, as well as in other countries of the Islamic world.  The inalienable right of women to divorce, own property, work, education, etc., have been obliterated by obscurantists.  The well-documented occurrences of honor killing, domestic violence against females, the despicable practices of Karo Kari, Wana, etc., have become daily events.  It is unfortunate that the previous National Assembly was only able to adopt a watered-down version of the Women’s Protection Bill because of pressure from the religious right.

The ascendancy of extremist ideology and the regression of values to the pre-Islamic Jahaliya era has unwittingly, through inaction, been condoned by the previous government which professed to be motivated by what it described as “enlightened moderation”.

Islam, unlike other religions, is more broad-based as a result of which the dividing line between the spiritual and the secular becomes blurred and, according to some theologians, non-existent.  They believe that the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Ceasar do not exist as separate water-tight entities but are one.  In other words, there is no separation of church and state.  In turn, this explains the intrusion of the Mulla, even though there is no priesthood in Islam, into social issues with obvious consequences for the individual, the family unit, society and, concomitantly culture.  Under these circumstances it is women who are singled out for social oppression.  It is this, along with other issues that Shoaib Mansoor has tried to emphasize.

With the growing presence of Islam in Asia, Africa, Europe and more recently America, interaction with different communities and an exchange of cultural values resulted in varied interpretations Quranic passages.  For instance, according to the National Geographic in its September 2007 issue, present day Pakistan, is confronted with two such interpretations and is a battleground for opposing points of view: the moderate elements(an interpretation of Islam evolved in India) and the extremist elements (from the Afghanistan frontier).

Vested interests spread their interpretation amongst a population which merely chants the Quran without understanding its true meaning because of illiteracy and the lack of education.  The mulla is, therefore, given a free hand to interpret the teachings of the Quran.  An eminent 20th century scholar of Islam, Muhammad Asad (d. 1992) very rightly wrote in his book, Islam at the Crossroads, “the one and only reason for the social and cultural decay of the Muslims consisted in the fact that they had gradually ceased to follow the teachings of Islam in spirit.  Islam was still there, but it was a body without soul.”

Shoaib Mansoor has attempted, through his multi-layered script revolving around the lives of three young Pakistanis and their families, to battle this misinterpretation of Islam.  He questions the beliefs of the extremist elements through common sense, providing a formidable opposition to their views.  The film has ignited controversy.  It has the potential of generating debate, arguments and counter-arguments on religious doctrines.  Previously these topics were confined to a few closed-door living room discussions.  “Khuda Kay Liye” has boldly challenged inbred beliefs of the masses; an achievement that is much more valuable than merely the revival of Pakistani cinema.