February 21, 2010

Serbs, Bolivians, bankers, neo-Nazis, and terrorists from invented African republics: Hollywood has been attacked by them all. In Europe, the baddies have always been more thoroughly white and solidly Western. But Muslims, anyone? In the eight years that the West has been fighting its war on Islamic terror, a war that has thrown up enough drama, enough Oscar-winning, hook-waving evil for a good few summers of cinematic carnage, there hasn’t been one movie”€”not a single one”€”that has featured an unequivocal, irredeemable Islamic wretch. How so? They’re not exactly hard to find.

On this point, the arts establishment tend to disagree. Film directors seem to have lost sight, sound, and mind on Islamic wretchedness. And it is this mental blindness that is opening up a new front in the war on terror: the cinematic front, which, in its attacks on Western means and mores, is arguably more dangerous to the fabric of society than all the various fronts we face. The latest celluloid salvo is A Prophet, a French gangster movie as explosive and debilitating as any botched bombing, with more gongs attached to it than the chest of Kim Jong-Il.

“The implication and effect of this is clear: only Muslims can understand humanity; only Muslims can be humane.”

A Prophet is not superficially malign. Rather its malevolence creeps up on you slowly. At first what flicks past you is an unoriginal but breezily violent mafia film: a poor man’s Godfather. Look closer, however, and the subtexts, the inferences, become a little sharper. In the good corner we have Malik, a lovable Arab rogue, and the irreproachable Muslims. In the bad corner, the abusers, thugs, and weasels: the white Corsicans and French prison guards.

At first subtly, then more clunkingly, the story begins to unfold like an Al-Qaeda book at bedtime, a little parable of Western involvement in the Middle East, the white Western Corsicans using and abusing Malik, until Malik enlists the aid of a band of irreproachable Muslims, turns on his former oppressors and enacts a spectacular revenge. Ring any bells? The contamination of spiritual Islamic irreproachability by Western secular thuggishness lies at the heart of the film.

The only glimpse of untainted innocence, the only intrusion of suffering, tenderness, and sympathy, comes with the arrival of Muslim children, Muslim women, Muslim mothers, crying, smiling, and caring. The implication and effect of this is clear: only Muslims can understand humanity; only Muslims can be humane.

It is not the only European film to have followed this political tack: Islam good, West bad. Michael Haneke has been the commander-in-chief of anti-Western maulings over the years. First, in 2005, came Hidden, a film about French guilt and complicity over Algeria, then, in 2008, The White Ribbon, which in a stroke of genius about 50 years out of date traduces traditional Western civilisation and its strictness and emotional and sexual repressions with the charge of causing the Holocaust. I didn’t know whether to laugh or yawn.

With A Prophet, neither laughing nor yawning is an option. This cinematic hatchet job is too good to be waved away. Firstly, the implications are more fundamental than Haneke’s bilious polemic. Second, for a film to be made about the innocence of Muslims languishing in Western prisons at a time when Muslims are, in their thousands, launching attacks on Western civilisation from these prisons is a rewriting of reality of the most dangerous sort. Only future historians will see the madness of current cinematic Western revisionism.

But maybe you crumple your forehead at this suggestion. You question how a mere foreign movie, an art house half-caste, could possibly be a danger to society. Why even bother getting irritated by A Prophet or the lowly Haneke? For better or worse, European movies are no longer the box office minnows they once were. A Prophet was one of the top ten biggest grossing films out in Britain last month. And Hidden parried well in the American market.

As membership and interest in political parties and the attendant political organisations of old fizzle out, the politicised film gathers pace and power. Today’s youngsters are as bored by politics as any generation. And the only amount of politicking that most can deal with is that which is neatly packaged within the glossy, light, loose celluloid frames of an entertainingly violent film. It is as a result of these sugary Goebbels-like silver screen baubles that the defeatist, appeasement politics of the public is gaining ground.


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