social commentary

Laughing in the face of terrorism

Every now and then a filmmaker, novelist or artist will come along and remind society that no topic is sacred. And the world becomes a better place for it. In creating a social commentary on jihadist terrorism, Chris Morris with Four Lions in 2010 dared to go where few other filmmakers would, and tackled perhaps the most sacred post-9/11 topic. Four Lions as a result is one of the most important comedies ever made, and one of the funniest I have ever seen. It earns a comparison to The Life of Brian in its ballsiness and hilarity.

For anyone who is yet to see it, this dark comedy is about a group of incompetent British jihadists who aspire to be suicide bombers. Their attempt to target the London marathon eerily brings to mind the tragedy of the Boston bombings last year. You can’t help but approach this film tentatively, but it soon becomes apparent that the satire in this film is as disciplined as it is sharp – this is thanks to the 3 years of research Morris put into it. Does it mock Islam? No. It mocks extremist Islam. More importantly, terrorism in general. Nigel Lindsay who plays Barry, the most savage of the quartet, has explained how his character could represent any terrorist faction, targeting anyone for any cause – a just subject for ridicule if ever there was one.

Four Lions poked fun at a topic wrapped sensitively in explosives but it did so intelligently enough to emerge intact. Morris avoided a fatwa too.

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When we think of terrorism and suicide bombing we think of evil in its highest form. But what Morris does in this film is remind us that it’s stupidity in its highest form too. The genius of this film is that it takes a subject to which an audience’s natural reaction is fear, and replaces it instead with humour. Four Lions is the hostage in a torture scene that fights back the only way it can: by laughing in the face of its oppressors. This film marked a real effort to dispel fear-mongering in today’s society. Throughout, it has you self-consciously laughing in full appreciation of its controlled wit. By the end it has you self-consciously reflecting, as all successful social commentaries do, on the not-so-funny world we live in.

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I’m sure that some people took offence. Some people always do. But generally the reception to this film has been overwhelmingly positive, especially within the Muslim world. When we think of the glorified portrayals of terrorism in Hollywood action movies, and the lack of Muslim representation in the Western film industry, it is easy to appreciate why. Four Lions depicted terrorism as it really is: ridiculous. And to do so it enrolled and showcased the brilliant talent of a greatly Muslim cast and crew. We live in a world where the media is even more guilty of glorifying terrorism and fear-mongering than the film industry. We are conditioned to consider terrorism as an unknown invincible force. Morris’ satire challenged this image.

It reminded us that terrorists are human and stupid ones at that.

 

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Social etiquette explained

Last term I left a lecture theatre eagerly – I did quite a few times actually, but on this particular occasion I stopped to hold the door open for some other people first.

No no after you

I let a guy and a girl go ahead of me. They may have been dating; they certainly knew each other – it doesn’t matter. There was nothing unusual about it. You wouldn’t write a blog post about it. So why am I? Why on earth do I even remember this? Because the guy turns to his friend and says: “Maybe chivalry isn’t dead.” I couldn’t tell whether his tone was sarcastic or suggestive. It was just annoying. But what was worse, was when she blushed.

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I think they both thought that I was somehow making a gentlemanly gesture towards her. I clearly fancied her. Yeah…no. I wasn’t making any kind of gesture. I wasn’t holding the door open for her, and I wasn’t holding the door open for him. I was just holding the door open.

You might credit me with good manners. But to be honest, it wasn’t even a conscious decision. I have to admit that in that situation I wasn’t actively being polite. Instead I was driven by the innate desire to avoid an awkward situation. We all have this. A group of people getting stuck in a doorway is just embarrassing isn’t it – it would involve further social interaction: an apology and a negotiation anyway about who proceeds first.

The same innate orientation to avoid an awkward situation at any cost is the reason you will offer the last cookie to someone else, isn’t it?

Please, be my guest

Sure, you want it. But it’s not worth feeling guilty over.

And you’ll have the same response in countless other situations too. The fear of failing to meet social expectation has become greater than our desire to do the right thing in the first place.

I should think there’s already a word for the phobia of awkward situations, but on the slight chance that there isn’t, may I suggest ‘politeness’?