By Stelios

I tolerate HBO because I like Curb Your Enthusiasm and a handful of other HBO programs (Entourage is a douchey, guilty pleasure), but for years it’s been clear to me that HBO’s politics are disgracefully extreme.  HBO’s favorite genres include post-colonialism/anti-Americanism, anything that elevates Islam and perpetuates the “Islam is a religion of peace” meme, and films about courageous plaintiff lawyers taking on evil corporations (Mann vs. Ford in the latest of many).  After the fantastic, gritty and inspiring series Band of Brothers (“BofB”) made HBO’s programming execs feel guilty for committing the crime of patriotism, they took their cues from Tom Hanks (one of the creators of the series), who described the Pacific war in World War II as a war “of racism and terror.”  The result was The Pacific, a series that can only be described as anti-American, anti-war pornography.  Whereas the Americans in BofB fought with honor, dignity and resolve, the Americans in The Pacific were largely cowardly, back-stabbing, virulent racists who pried gold teeth from dying Japanese, routinely betrayed and tormented one another, and who went AWOL, were driven mad or killed themselves in epic numbers.

Whereas BofB was released during a brief post-9/11 blooming of American unity and sense of self, The Pacific reflected the retrenchment of the Left in the US as they expressed their disgust for President Bush and the Mission Accomplished, “with us or with the terrorists” mentality of the Bush Administration, conservatives and much of Red State America.  Clearly, Hanks felt The Pacific was an allegory for the Bush War on Terror.  As he stated in March of 2010: “They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?”

Now that the disgraceful second act of the World War II mini-series is behind us, HBO must look for other ways to spread the word that the US is root of all evil, as well as the parallel position that the Islamic world is an oppressed victim of western aggression, and that Islam is a beautiful and poetic religion of peace.  Anti-Americanism and the US military as oppressor, conspirator and murderer is a frequent theme of mainstream films like The Green Zone and Body of Lies that are assured of tons of airtime when they reach HBO, and of course you can check in with Bill Maher any week should you need a dose of “America as fascist, racist oppressor” propaganda.  HBO is particularly fond of films like The Visitor that portray Muslims as victims of an unjust American society and portray Islamic culture as a complete non-threat that can only add to the multi-cultural tapestry of Western societies.  However, nothing I have seen on HBO can compare to this month’s The Koran by Heart, a documentary love song from its makers to the beautiful poetry of the Koran and the young Muslims who memorize it “by heart”.

The film covers a contest for young Muslim students from around the world who gather in Egypt to see who has best memorized the words of the Koran.  The film is well made and professional, and I admired many of the competitors, who are of course largely blameless and lack choices about their lives at this stage (my main reaction to them is sadness as I wonder what these clearly bright and talented kids could accomplish if given a 21st century education that permits critical thinking, followed by unfettered and real career/life opportunities, etc.).  My criticism is directed wholly at the parents and “educators” involved in their upbringing, and at the filmmakers and executives who put this film on HBO, in primetime, in yet another attempt to portray Islam as an ideology of beauty, innocence, truth and spirituality.

Among the questions lightly examined or totally ignored by the film are: (1) is it a good idea to “educate” young people by having them memorize a religious book over several YEARS of their lives?  Note that for many students in madrassas, koranic memorization constitutes the majority (and often the vast majority) of their studies; and  (2) what exactly are these young people reciting?  What are the words and commands of this book, and how have those words been interpreted?  The reaction amongst film buffs and reviewers to the film focused not on these questions but on the film as a “contest movie”, on the emotional impact of the film and on the apparent beauty of the poetic verses memorized by the eager and often touching students.  This review is relatively illustrative: http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/reviews/summer-doc-series-koran-by-heart.php  The reviewer notes:

There’s a sense in this film of a world community which continues to disagree with itself, but all of those debates are silenced at the sound of a young child’s voice singing its most holy scripture.

That glorious recitation punctuates the movie with soul-cradling excerpts from the children in the competition. One child brings tears to the judges’ eyes, and it’s easy to see why. At the heart of the story is an incredible art.

While I understand the urge to be non-judgmental and to receive the film on its terms, I don’t see how it’s possible to evaluate this film with addressing the two questions I ask above.  Would reviewers get misty-eyed and find “glorious” these recitations if they knew what they meant?  Is there glory, or great art, in reciting things like:

  • Qur’an (2:191-193)“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]…and fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.”
  • Qur’an (3:56)“As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”
  • Qur’an (3:151)“Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority”. 

Would a gay filmmaker struggle at all with glorifying the recitation of koranic admonitions against homosexuality, such as this verse (which is the scriptural basis for stoning as punishment for homosexuality in the strictest sharia law countries)? –

  • Qur’an (7:80-84)“…For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds…. And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone)”

Would the reviewer find himself mesmerized by an 8 year old girl reciting these passages? –

  • Qur’an (2:282)“And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not found then a man and two women.” 
  • Qur’an (2:223)“Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will…”
  • Qur’an (4:34)“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.”
  • Qur’an (38:44)“And take in your hand a green branch and beat her with it, and do not break your oath…” 

Christian and Jewish HBO executives, members of the filmmaking team and movie reviewers are sure to get choked up with emotion when hearing the children recite this verse –

  • Qur’an (5:51)O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk.

 

It’s too bad the children did not also memorize the Hadiths (holy books that purport to collect reports of statements of actions of Muhammad), or the Jewish folks involved in the project and its promotion might have enjoyed the chance to hear passages like this one –

  • “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (see, e.g., Sahih Muslim, 41:6985).

 

While it will never happen, HBO should produce a documentary that explores the question of whether it is child abuse to force children to memorize the Koran, and/or whether the adult that emerges from this form of “education” could ever really embrace core Western values like gender equality, tolerance for gays, and separation of church/mosque and state.  But why would anyone make a film like that when one can simply extol the “beauty” and “poetry” of the Islamic texts, and be assured a featured slot on HBO’s programming line-up?  The world needs fair but critical examination of what Islam teaches its children and how that affects them (and eventually, us).  What the world does not need is to foster the illusion that the source material of Islam is benign, and that its innate peaceful message is distorted by a few radical extremists.  That illusion is critical to the cosmology of the left, and specifically, the cosmology of HBO.

 

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