Four Lions

So I went to see Four Lions on Saturday.

I’d been chomping at the bit to see it; a big Chris Morris fan, I was looking forward to seeing something new from him, he’s been away too long.  However, I think this anticipation hindered things for me, as though I really enjoyed it, I found myself wanting more.

It’s hilarious, and for all the grumblings about the controversial topic (if you don’t know, it’s a film about a group of bumbling terrorists making a pig’s ear of their own jihad on the UK), I think it’s just the right kind of film to make in today’s climate.  Terrorism is one of the things the western world is most disgusted, offended and afraid of. So why not send it up as a subject of ridicule? It won’t make the act any less horrific, but terrorists win, because we’re afraid of them and their ability to let their ego/idiocy/compliance lead to murder.  Throughout the film, Morris ensures that the ideologies, arguments and reasons behind their jihad are contradictory, confused and paper thin – and it leads to some of the funniest moments of the film.  A case in point being in the last quarter of the film when our main character, Omar, has to literally reverse something he said to convince his brother to continue with their suicide bombing plan.  It points out the sheep like nature of some that follow such destructive causes, and the manipulative nature of their leaders. It makes terrorists – these figures of fear – into farcical idiots.

The best of these is Barry, a white convert to Islam, the funniest character in the film, he exaggerates his  English accent to make him seem even more unlikely a fundamentalist, and his desperate attempts to turn every outcome to his favour and his cause make him a stroke of comic genius.

The film surprises a number of times, leading to real laugh-out-loud moments, but there’s more to it that straightforward farce.  There are important messages under all the daft antics.  The importance of mocking terrorism is there, as are subtle and very unsubtle insinuations that the forces that are supposed to protect us are just as useless a bunch of morons as those who want to hurt us.  But nevertheless, the wrong people get shot, information is handled poorly, and the innocent suffer.

Fantastic as it was, I was expecting a bit more.  I hold Chris Morris up as an somewhat of an iconic figure, controversy follows him almost whatever he does, but it’s always due to him making an incredibly good point rather than the shock-value so many ‘controversial’ comics deal in.  But as far as Chris Morris comedy goes, Four Lions is relatively tame.  There are still moments that make you uncomfortable – there’s one incredibly weird moment where our jihad-intent hero is feeling overcome by the obstacles in his way (including exploding friends), so his family appear with loving words to tell him they believe in him. It’s essentially a feel-good, schmaltzy moment where the protagonist is inspired by the heart-warming support of his loved ones.  Only what he’s being inspired to do is kill us filthy westerners.

Nevertheless he could have gone further with this, but perhaps he knew too well that the anarchic, wild style of Brass Eye and Jam would be too much for most audiences.  In being more accessible, more people will realise how clever he is as a writer.  Those that speak out against don’t like the prospect that it makes us take terrorism less seriously.  This is not the case.  Morris did extensive research, speaking to imams, police, special forces and experts in the field, but more importantly sat in on trials of botched terrorist attacks – and related the incompetence to farcical Ealing comedy.  Making this film was an incredibly good idea.  Some don’t want terrorists humanised; but if we don’t, they remain the boogeyman, this film points out that they are just human – it takes away some of the power they have over us.  It allows us to mock and ridicule those that want us cowering under our tables in, well, terror.

From the Archives: The comic strip presents – Freedom of Speech

From my ancient MSN Spaces blog.
It’s been interesting re-reading how I thought a few years ago, and the unsettling feeling of ‘the more things change’.

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Welcome to a mountain.  Whether it’s a giant mass dividing the masses, or something built from a molehill, is up to you.  Though intrinsic factors have grand implications, to me it’s… well it’s all a bit silly, really.

Yet again it comes down to people’s view of things being black and white.  And I’m not talking about skin colour.  On one hand, the reaction to the cartoons is a surprising lack of a sense of humour.  On the other, the prophet of a religion has been lampooned.

No sense of humour.

They’re cartoons for fuck’s sake.  The pictures are likely in poor taste, but these are not the in depth assault by a renowned intellectual to open the eyes of non-Muslims worldwide.  They’re a sketch for a few sniggers before breakfast and to keep food on an artist’s plate.

The violent reaction is appalling, it would be pathetic were it not for the frightening scale with which it has spiralled out of control.  What began with pelting eggs went to burning a flag, went to sacking an embassy building, racism towards entire nations as produce is cleared from retail shelves and threats are made against Europe, to death.  People have now died in clashes over this.  I can understand the offence in question

The reaction is as pathetically attention seeking as the ‘controversial’ cartoons themselves, but with a horrifyingly more gruesome outcome as each pathetic, arrogant human attempts to prove they are the best, the most outraged, the most important voice that should be listened to. Over a cartoon.  Buildings have been set on fire and protesters have been shot dead.  For a cartoon.

If it is that wrong, how about rising above this kind of humour? How about Letting the blinkered have their sniggers and working for equality?  No, instead, let’s play into the hands of those pricks that would brand all Muslims war-mongers.

Christianity is lampooned often; I have such a cartoon on my wall.  After a bishop claimed melodramatically that Christianity was defeated, the picture has an elderly vicar leaving a church with suitcases, and a proud new vicar standing at the gates next to an ‘under new management’ sign.  The new vicar is Satan.  Is this kind of lampooning any less offensive than some of these pictures?

Other situations have arisen within western religious culture.  The Jerry Springer Opera, for instance.

A religion insulted

The pictures themselves are pretty shit really, the ones I’ve seen aren’t very funny at all, and the much maligned picture depicting Mohamed with a turban as a bomb is too far, a poorly thought of racist portrayal of the Muslim faith as a terrorist insurgency.

Muslims live their faith, whereas in the west, especially here in Britain, the following of faith is not always as strictly adhered to. (Henry VIII, anyone?)  Religion is still and will for a long time be very important, but it hasn’t stopped these and similar rows being described as ‘the West vs. Islam’ rather than ‘Christianity vs. Islam’.

Media reaction is unsurprisingly biased towards free speech.  The mere mention that journalism has stepped over the line in regards to free speech will bring them rallying together.  And rightly so?  Possibly.  To compare, it is like that friend you know – we all know at least one – that proclaims to all the world that they say it how it is.  This person comes across as blunt but honest.  But that person can also be a bit of a prick.  Insulting people when s/he didn’t really need to.  If that person is saying all Muslims are bomb wielding monsters, it might be tolerably tongue in cheek, but on repetition it also makes him/her a racist.

Much like the comment about Jerry Springer, the feathers of Western Religions can be just as easily ruffled.  Robert Fisk’s fantastic comment points out that had the bomb/turban picture been of a rabbi, the papers would have been condemned as anti-Semitic.

Misguiding the people

I had intended this blog to be as even sided as possible.  But its coming across a little one sided.  If so that’s not how its intended.  I find the scale of the reaction ridiculous, but do not scoff in the face of those whose religion has been offended.  I can see perfectly well why many are offended by it, but it is not worth violence and bloodshed.  If any eye for an eye has to be made then surely the cartoonists and those who laugh at what really isn’t that funny should be ridiculed.  Not be fearing their lives may be taken by an extremist.

And that is what much of this is.  Yet again, the radical-aka-rabid minority stirring up anger in pretty much the same intention as cocks like Nick Griffin, aiming at the disgruntled masses (and lets face it, discontented people will never be a minority).  This in particular has been ideal for the more radical, in that it has been able to draw the anger of more central minded but still fervently religious Muslims into the web of hate through the offence taken.  What will be perceived as the majority of protesters will really be masterminded by more radical minded men who will rely on the mob rule that sucks in all humans regardless of their religion.

In addition: on the western front (heehee western front) the media is doing its thing and highlighting these appalling incidents and repeating them en masse.  Making what has largely been a non-violent reaction seem like the first step to the end of the world.  These incidents are few, but make no mistake about it, they’re as overdramatic as a bad drama student’s production of Hamlet.  When lives are endangered, what is pathetic becomes appalling.

Freedom of speech.

The over-reactions and generalisations we now have are that the media is attacking in a racial and anti-Islamic manner.  Whereas the Muslim world is now seen as being against freedom of speech.  Both = bullshit.

Freedom of speech should be allowed, but should also not be immune from repercussions.  You have a right to believe Islam is a force to destroy the world.  But you should also be prepared to be perceived as a blinkered racist.  I’m sure many are and don’t care, but far more are not.

I’m not saying the artists in question are the new Hitler, but should put more thought into how they portray their work.  Being controversial may get you a promotion or an erection for your ego, but haven’t put enough thought into the repercussions.  Because you don’t have a particularly strong view on religion doesn’t mean the rest of the world is the same.

Then, of course, on the other hand.  Just because a handful of cocky satirists have drawn the prophet, doesn’t mean the entire media world laughs and goads Islamic society.  It certainly doesn’t justify burning flags, or buildings, or people.

What really makes me laugh is some of the placards waved by protesters.  Freedom of speech can go to hell, and my personal favourite; “down with free speech”

Protester:  “DOWN WITH FREE SPEECH!”

Policeman: “Excuse me sir, you cannot protest here”

Protester:  “You cannot stop me! Im exercising my rights as an individual!”

Er. Yeah.

Prejudice

The sickening extremity of some of the reaction is appalling.  Embassies sacked, threats of beheadings and violent attacks.  The boycotting of produce I find smacks of a childish reaction to fight fire with fire.  Assuming that whole countries are united against Islam will justify blatant racism of clearing Danish produce from shelves and cutting off ties with embassies while protesters scream “death to Denmark”.

Apologies have been made… and unaccepted.

Hate the person who created the cartoons.  But an entire country? Racism.  The same prejudice that the protesters accuse the west of.

Whereas before, the blundering bull in a china shop of the Western military action played directly into the extremist’s hands, now the radicals are pushing more central Muslims directly into the hands of the racist quotient of the western world.  Offended Muslims angry at the lampooning of their religion are being penned into the blinkered but rising view of Islam as a religion with a ‘jihad’ against freedom itself.  It’s a pathetic way to breed hate, but it’s proved highly effective as this molehill rises ever higher.  If this is the reaction to a few cartoons of little wit and poor taste, then how easy a step will it be to have that molehill blot out the sun.

How’s that for melodrama?

Thoughts and feelings please!

John Simpson

The row Q&A

Aftermath in Lebanon