November 08, 2010

In WWII and the Cold War, we faced enemies the caliber of Wernher von Braun and Andrei Sakharov. In the War on Terror, however, a strikingly large fraction of Muslim would-be terrorists, such as the recent Underpants Bomber and the Times Square Fizzler, are screwups.

Criminal masterminds turn out to be more common in movies than in real life. Even Osama bin Laden got lucky. A video shows him admitting gleefully that he hadn”€™t expected the World Trade Center towers to come down. And without George W. Bush’s campaign against airport profiling of Arabs, Mohammed Atta likely wouldn”€™t have even made it onboard.

Directed by Chris Morris, who is apparently legendary in Britain for his TV satires (I confess to never having heard of him before), Four Lions is a British buddy comedy about five Muslim yobbos in Sheffield peer-pressuring each other into staging a terrorist attack on “€œunbelieving Kafir slags.”€ (The quintet is culled to the titular four when Faisal, carrying explosives made from hydrogen peroxide purchased at the corner shop, trips over a sheep. CNN subsequently headlines: “€œASIAN MAN’s HEAD FALLS OUT OF TREE.”€)

Four Lions“€™ simpleton terrorists are clearly based on the two cells that attempted multiple bombings in the London Tube in July 2005. Plot tension stems from the audience’s uncertainty over which set is being fictionalized: the incompetents of 7/21/05, whose total casualty count comprised a single asthma attack, or the team that murdered 52 civilians on 7/7?

“€œMorris seems so impressed with his own bravery that he doesn”€™t have much to say.”€

Four are Pakistani lumpenproles, of whom only Omar has a job. The fifth is Barry, a vociferous middle-aged English hooligan whose conversion to Islam is the latest in a lifetime of bad decisions. (Think John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, but with an imam’s skullcap.) When Omar calls Barry a liability, he sputters, “€œBollocks, I’m a liability! I am the Invisible Jihadi!”€ (In reality, 7/7’s one non-Pakistani bomber was a Jamaican convert.)

Morris got the inspiration for Four Lions while reading about Muslim terrorism’s history in a Very Serious Book that kept devolving into farce: for example, the Yemeni fanatics who piled deadly explosives high in a Suicide Boat which promptly sank. Or the terrorist who made it past a Saudi royal’s security by jamming the explosives up his posterior. When he pushed the button, though, he merely launched himself through the ceiling, leaving the prince unharmed and bemused.

Intrigued, Morris studied MI5 wiretap transcripts of terrorists debating who was cooler: Osama bin Laden or Johnny Depp?


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