Syriana, faith, and compromise.

17 Sep

Back in February I wrote:

Oil Change |

Go to the site above. And see the movie Syriana.

I saw it last night on DVD. Read this interview with screenwriter/director Stephen Gaghan.

… It was a naturally emotional story, and I think Warner Bros. deserves a lot of credit. They never said to me, “Soften this.” None of their questions or comments were about “We’re going to take a lot of shit for this.” They were questions about… they were just good dramatic questions. “How do we make this clearer? How do we make it more emotional? What are you really trying to say?” A couple of things happened for me. I read TERROR & LIBERALISM by Paul Berman. Well, first I read the excerpt in The New York Times, where he talked about the philosophy of [Sayyid Qutb]. Berman parsed the 26-volume book which is called IN THE SHADE OF THE QUR’AN. It was written by this guy Qutb, who spent time in America. He’s Egyptian. Academic. And [Berman] very persuasively showed me that what was going on in the world right now is, there is a war of ideas. That these clerics in the Muslim world had a very serious idea. He says that idea had been cross-pollinated with facism, totalitarian ideology from the West. He shows where it could have happened in Egypt. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I wasn’t 100% persuaded by that.

But what I was persuaded by was how seductive the ideas were, and how powerful. Like the notion that you could be part of the greater good. That God has a plan for you. The Koran has that plan written down. If I was a disenfranchised young person who had taken a lot of blows to my self-esteem, who didn’t really know where to go in the world, who had no education, and if someone came along with these ideas that I found in TERROR & LIBERALISM, that are found in Qutb, and took me seriously, and talked to me about this stuff, it would be unbelievably seductive…

Leaving aside the truly convincing and scary stuff about the oil business, corruption, and US foreign policy, that’s the aspect of the movie I found most compelling, a world away from the pitiful “speak English, you bastards” line being taken at the moment by our government. I wonder if the movie has played in the Howard and Downer households? That aspect alone makes the movie well worth seeing, along with the famous moment where some rat-like functionary launches into an encomium on corruption. On the other hand, I did find the movie flawed in some respects, perhaps because it blended the conventions of the thriller somewhat uncomfortably with its serious intent. I would not call it a “pretentious yawn”, as this blogger did. It’s better than that. There is still plenty of truth in there, inconvenient truth (to borrow a phrase from Al Gore), which really needs to be taken very seriously. So visit that site I began this entry with.

Then the other day I heard South Australian Peter Fuller’s five-minute spot on Radio National’s Perspective. “In view of the damage being done throughout the world by extremists, the word ‘compromise’ never looked so good. Let’s bring back whomever it was who first came up with the motto, ‘Everything in moderation’, and let’s make her or him Ruler of the Universe.” He is so right.

In fundamentalism sensitivity, insight, intellect and – may it be said – all the other God-given decencies of the human mind, heart and spirit are cast aside in favour of a rampant imagination, expressing itself in hideous imagery. Preaching is thus reduced to a howling for blood: the blood of Christ if we are to be redeemed, our own if we are to be damned.

Having no faith in humanity, fundamentalism itself neglects the human decencies, and delivers its message with vehement and lofty self – righteousness. Because of this neglect of the human decencies, just about every form of human misery imaginable has at some time or the other has been inflicted on humanity in the name of obedience to God. Obedience to God really means obedience to our perception of God since even revealed truth must be perceived as such before it can be given that status. And before we know it, we reach the classic impasse that sees God creating us in his image while we are busy creating him in ours.

I don’t know enough about other religions and cultures to risk say anything about them. But I suspect that fundamentalism is pretty much the same wherever it’s found. If we hold too tightly to the stories of our faith and culture we end up throttling them, and while we’re about it, we throttle one another. It might be wise, therefore, to hold our beliefs, our values and our stories with a certain amount of tenderness, modesty and detachment. And in holding them it wouldn’t hurt to also show a disarming readiness to compromise.

Amen to that.

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Posted by on September 17, 2006 in Current affairs, Faith and philosophy, Films, DVDs, TV, Reading, Religion


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