It has changed lives, uplifted individuals, touched just about every person in the western world in just a few short decades. Some may say that it is best known for its more controversial aspects: the ubiquitous black clad figure, its face hidden; the people driven to war by this ideology; as for its charms: the universality of its call, its deep sense of justice, its call to a better way.I am, of course, referring to Star Wars.
Before they mined Unobtainium on Pandora; before resistance to the Borg was futile; before Harry Potter snatched his first snitch; there was Star Wars. I cannot think of another film that has been analysed, re-analysed and probably over-analysed in modern history. For Muslims of a certain age, for whom the 1980s and 90s signify a pimply epoch in their teenage existence, Star Wars seems to particularly resonate.
At the heart of what makes Star Wars special is the richness of the back story – especially that of the Jedi religion. In the cramped university digs of Muslim students throughout the western world, it was often at the nub of cola and pizza-fuelled in-depth discussions that lasted well into the night, with the topic more often than not being the strange sameness of the whole Jedi raison d’etre to several aspects of Islamic philosophy. Whether it was at a superficial level pointing out that the Jedi outfitters seemed to have raided a jellabia shop; or whether it was pointing out that the whole master-paduwan dynamic was very alim-talib in its setup; or whether it was the enthusiastic discovery that Yoda’s unique speech pattern matched exactly the way sentences are structured in Arabic.
That was until, of course, George Lucas ruined it all with his ill-advised 3-part prequel which appeared to have blown its whole budget on CGI – leaving the script to be written gratis by a creative writing class of a run-down community college located in one of the shabbier suburbs of Scunthorpe or Middlesbrough made up of high school drop-outs who seemingly have learned English as a second or perhaps third language. The result: randomly linked together cliched platitudes, woodenly delivered by a series of irritating characters. Even more jarring was the mis-casting of Natalie Portman as the freedom and justice loving politician Padmé Amidala. Portman, who calls “The Only Democracy in the Middle East” home, often defends her country against any criticism of euphemistically named “reprisal attacks” launched from helicopter gunships and tanks usually against stone-throwing children in flip-flops. Lucas would have been better off casting her as the evil Senator Palpatine whose Machiavellian machinations, heartless repression of freedom and mindless brutality would have at least allowed Portman to play to her strengths.
Lucas, however, is not content with just producing awful prequels, he also has a penchant for continually tinkering with the original movies and every few years releases a newer version with a couple of cut scenes as well as extras added onto the original script. What has drawn out the ire of its fans is that in his latest tinkering, George Lucas has altered the famous scene towards the end of “Return of the Jedi”.
To Star Wars fans it is the crux of the whole vein of morality that runs through the Star Wars universe – Darth Vader, the chief protagonist, when confronted by his own son’s torture at the hands of his master, the uber-baddie Emperor, switches sides and throws the Emperor into a conveniently placed reactor core – the location of which I can’t believe the Death Star’s “‘elf-n-safety” officer approved of.
George Lucas, unsure of the twitter generation’s ability to follow the twists and turns of the story that can be easily understood by the average 5 year old, has now overlaid the scene with a wailing “Nooooooo” issuing forth from Vader’s plastic mask so that the viewers quite clearly understand when his change of heart occurred.
The body politic of Star Wars fans were outraged. It was tacky, jarring and just so obvious. Lucas argued that because Vader’s mask obscures his entire face including his eyes, he was just making sure everyone “got it”. “Entirely unnecessary”, the fanboys countered. Everyone who watched the story could see his anguish, his inner conflict, his ultimate decision from his body language, no eyes or face or voice needed. I entirely agree and wonder if anyone has ever asked a Star Wars geek what their position is on the usual “barrier to communication” argument that is used against the niqab…but that’s another discussion for another day!
But Lucas’ tinkering aside, Vader’s change of heart highlights a truism that runs deep in the human psyche – at times of great stress people’s true nature manifests itself. And it appears this truism isn’t limited to conflicted ex-Jedi warriors with respiratory problems. Indeed one doesn’t need to go back a long long time agoor in fact travel to a galaxy far far away to see the real nature of the beast manifesting itself at an individual level, a group level and even at a national level. In Darth Vader’s case it was an outwardly evil man eschewing his wicked ways to become good; but in real life it is often the opposite.
When discussing nation states that exude the greatest amount of rhetoric about freedom and justice – the USA springs to mind with the greatest alacrity. From the “Star Spangled Banner” exhortation that it is the “land of the free” to the Pledge of Allegiance’s assertion that the republic stood for “liberty and justice for all”; to that type of Hollywood action movie whose final scene always seems to have the hero emerging bloodied but triumphant from some alarming looking wreckage in order to deliver a cloying soliloquy on freedom and justice with the US flag fluttering in the background and a grand cinematic score swelling to a crescendo; the US certainly talks the talk when it comes to freedom and individual liberty. However, at times of stress it seems that this talk seems to be more artifice than actuality.
Just look at the Occupy Wall street movement. When one usually reads accounts of
injured civilians, beaten-up poets, shot protesters, destroyed libraries, censored press and arrested journalists, and a government and police service openly defending these outrages, the reportage usually originates in a western-backed dictatorship ruled over by a tyrant with idiosyncratic facial hair wearing a shiny suit. But no, these where the facts on the ground when police clashed with the Occupy Movement protesters in the US these last couple of weeks.Regardless of how coherent their message is or how much we agree with them it is difficult to come to terms with this new reality where entirely peaceful protesters have been met with such extreme levels of violence and brutality by the state.
After one gets over the unforgettable image of a
pepper-sprayed 84-year-old protester or the response one reporter got when she protested that she was “from the press” (the reply? “Not tonight”); or indeed the fact that the US Department of Homeland Security briefed 18 separate mayors on how to “suppress” the protests, one realises that the true nature of the US political will is revealed.It also exposes the true character of champagne intellectuals who become so outraged when Muslims are offended by insulting cartoons of our blessed Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam). As Muslims were informed by the more sanctimonious types from the freedom of speech brigade that ‘we don’t agree with what they are saying, but we will protect their right to say it”, one wonders why they were not out standing, arms akimbo, in front of lines of riot police in order to protect the Occupy protesters.
The response of many was to hunker down in their abstruse intellectual bunkers whilst
polishing up that old chestnut that it is capitalism that allowed these protesters to protest in the first place. Or in the case of Salman Rushdie turn up for a photo shoot whilst promoting their latest film/book then retire to emit tweets of outrage from the safety of their iPads. Or, as the writers of the cartoon South Park did, heap scorn on the movement, which is an interesting response considering the volume at which they emitted their howls of protest when the Cartoon Network censored their lacklustre episode in which they insulted our beloved Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam).Or indeed, take Melanie Philips (please someone…take Melanie Philips…to a galaxy far, far away) – the doyen of the incoherent mob, the high priestess of the bug-eyed bigot; who routinely declares
free speech to be dead– usually in response to Muslims having the temerity to stand up for their rights; is now declaring that free speech – supposedly having made a back-from-the-grave recovery is not only not dead, but alive and well and being abused by the Occupy movement.Away from the tents, the home-made signs, and the pepper sprays, we see others having their own Darth Vader moment, namely one Sayeeda Warsi, Chair of the Conservative Party and first Muslim woman in the Cabinet.
When she turned up to her first day of work wearing a shalwar kheemez, she was something of a novelty and I hold my hands up and admit that I for one had high hopes that by sheer chance an idealistic politician had managed to find her way into a position of power. Once or twice in the early days of the government, Baroness Warsi spoke out for Muslims in the UK but found herself comprehensively slapped down with growing calls for her resignation.
She has since gone distinctly quiet in the last few months despite there being several high profile issues affecting British Muslims. I suspect that she has finally realised that she is in such a high profile role not as an agent for change but rather as an alibi along the lines of “Some of my best friends are Muslims” for a Party that is proving itself to be no friend of Islam. I am sure she would argue that a high profile party mascot is better than nothing but I would suggest that as well as being the Tory’s best brown buddy, she is also a fig leaf to cover over the ugliness of
specific anti-Muslim legislation formulated and promoted by Islamophobic cabinet ministers (like Michael Gove) with the actual power and intent to make the lives of British Muslims very uncomfortable indeed.Warsi has not gone completely silent. In a
recent Guardian interview Warsi appears to make takfir (declaring someone not to be a Muslim) against Anjum Choudry.Choudry’s recent escapades have included threatening to demonstrate during the two minute silence on Rememberance Day (he didn’t show up), threatening to demonstrate during a military parade in Wooton Bassett (he didn’t show up), threatening to declare a “sharia law” zone in East London as a bridgehead for a future Islamic Emirate (he didn’t do it…are we detecting a pattern yet?) and finally having his small gang MAC (Muslims Against Crusaders) banned by Teresa May.
Every statement issued by the media savvy Choudry is seized upon by a salivating press scrum and propelled to the headlines instead of being reported more accurately as a deliberately provocative statement made by the head of an organisation of about 5-10 people who by their past record won’t actually carry through their threats. It is the equivalent of Jeremy Paxman and John Humphreys interviewing every societal misfit wandering the high street wearing a sandwich board declaring the end to be nigh.
Choudry, who is probably beyond thrilled at the amount of media time he has been getting, was not available for any comment as he was probably otherwise engaged trying to think up another unlikely sounding acronym for his soon to be relaunched organisation. May I humbly offer my own suggestion as to what MAC aka Islam4UK aka Al Muhajiroun aka Al Ghuraaba should be renamed and relaunched as: Muslims Obviously Rejuvenating Our Newspaper Sales – I for one would dearly love Choudry et al to proudly stand under the M.O.R.O.N.S banner at their next public event. If that doesn’t suit them how about “Imbeciles Desiring (an) Intentionally Outrageous Talking Shop” (I.D.I.O.T.S), or the more sensible Irritating Gang Not Observably Representative Either (I.G.N.O.R.E).
Choudry’s grandstanding is a useful device for two groups of people. The first is the most obvious – he has a parasite-host type relationship with anti-Muslim bigots. The second are those who use Choudry to taint any discourse about issues surrounding Islam. For example, Choudry criticises Afghan and Iraqi war crimes by British soldiers and so anyone else doing the same will become his instant ally in the simplistic black and white 30 second soundbite world of the media.
The second group of people are those attempting to reform Islam – like BMSD (British Muslims for Secular Democracy) and ISB (Islamic Society of Britain). Now, before the members of ISB come onto this site to write long protestations declaring their hurt and upset at this “unfounded” accusation, I would refer them back to their
PlainIslam.com website (now made infinitely more ridiculous by the addition of a disclaimer which only highlights the deep rifts which are appearing in that organisation). These groups gain instant legitimacy by positioning themselves against Choudry so that they can declare themselves to be the alternative to his incendiary bombast.What they haven’t realised is that they are not the solution to any issues, on the contrary, they are alongside Choudry as simply another problem that British Muslims have to deal with.
Sayeeda Warsi used the Choudry imagery in an attempt to place herself somehow at the heart of British Islam. She should not have bothered. If she doesn’t experience her own Darth Vader moment and metaphorically toss the whole Neocon agenda of the cabinet down an allegorical central reactor core, she will be remembered as the first Muslim woman to preside over the demonisation of Muslims in the UK.
Meanwhile in Europe…
The ultimate reversion to one’s true nature when the chips are down can also be played out on a group or society level. I have looked on with interest at how the dynamics within Europe have evolved over the course of what initially was a credit crunch, to a sovereign debt crisis, to a recession and then to the final hours of the Euro. The initial brotherly camaraderie that the leaders of Europe had in the face of this adversity evaporated back to the national stereotypes last seen at this level of crudeness in the middle of the last century, with the Greeks once again the poor men of Europe, the Italians just looking flamboyantly out of control – Sarkozy and Merkel’s sneers at a joint press conference said it all. It would seem that like Darth Vader the true nature of a people rarely changes… What then do the summer riots say for our Green and Pleasant land?
The truism that one’s inner nature, one’s true character, one’s real self surfaces at times of stress when the layers of social and societal conformity and mental gymnastics are torn away is equally applicable to Muslims. It is obvious to all that the position of Muslims in Western society is ever marginal and precarious; we are seen as the “other” more and more, day by day. Just like in a pressure cooker, the negative perceptions towards Islam are continually building.
For some, the pressure will be unbearable and unlike the loyal Star Wars fans for whom the original trilogy is a Gospel, these Muslims are prepared to remaster or re-imagine the religion and sharia embodied by the best of creation. The depth, beauty and balance of Islam being transformed into sound-bites, slogans and musical verse.
We all have our individual boiling points and how much pressure we can withstand – but the question we all have to consider is that when that crunch point comes, and it will certainly come to all of us, what true nature of ours will come out. Will we be seduced by the dark side or will we see the light?
“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the Glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.
“(Lit is such a light) in houses, which Allah hath permitted to be raised to honour; for the celebration in them of His name: in them is He glorified in the mornings and in the evenings, (again and again)―
“By men whom neither traffic nor merchandise can divert from the Remembrance of Allah nor from regular Prayer, nor from the practice of regular Charity: their (only) fear is for the Day when hearts and eyes will be transformed (in a world wholly new)―
“That Allah may reward them according to the best of their deeds, and add even more for them out of His Grace: for Allah doth provide for those whom He will, without measure.
“But the Unbelievers, their deeds are like a mirage in sandy deserts, which the man parched with thirst mistakes for water; until when he comes up to it he finds it to be nothing: but he finds Allah (ever) with him and Allah will pay him his account: and Allah is swift in taking account. Or (the Unbelievers’ state) is like the depths of darkness in a vast deep ocean overwhelmed with billow topped by billow, topped by (dark) clouds: depths of darkness one above another: if a man stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it! For any to whom Allah giveth not light there is no light!”