Saturday, October 1, 2011

Four Lions -- suicide-bombers and radical Christianity

Director: Christopher Morris, 2010. (R)   

Four Lions is a funny, often hilarious, black comedy about a most deadly subject: suicide bombers. Given its nature as a parody of Islamic jihadists, it is certain to offend viewers. Of course, radical Muslims are unlikely to watch this, but moderates and followers of other religions with sensitive sensibilities will be affronted. But viewers with a tougher skin or who love spoofs and can follow thick British accents will roar with laughter.

The film focuses on a small group of British terrorist wannabes, living somewhere in the English Midlands. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is the blond-haired white Islamic convert who thinks he runs the group. But Omar (Riz Ahmed) is the real brains behind this bomb-beholden band of brothers. Along with Waj (Kayvan Novak), Omar’s sheep-like follower, and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), they meet secretly at one of their homes to plot their attack at the Great Satan of Western Europe. Yet, while the focus is on the ideology of the terrorists, the film really focuses on these four idiots embracing this ideology.

Razor-sharp verbal dialog abounds. For example, Waj excitedly tells Omar, “We’ll blow up something.” When Omar asks, “What we gonna blow up Waj?” he asnwers with complete conviction, “The internet!” Or when Barry’s getaway car almost breaks down due to his lack of maintenance, instead he blames “the parts . . . they’re Jewish. Spark plugs! Jews invented spark plugs to control global traffic.”

The comic set-pieces, too, provide tremendous opportunity for farce and slapstick. When Omar and Waj go to Pakistan to boot camp to become ‘real soldiers’ in the war of terrorism, they cause death and destruction on a grand scale . . . only to their own army. And they get sent back home as failed terrorist graduates. Soldiers they are not! Or there is Faisal’s idea of flying bombs. Instead of hijacking airliners and having them fly into buildings, he is training crows to carry miniature bombs into stores. And rather than target something grandiose like the World Trade Center or perhaps the Houses of Parliament, they are satisfied to bomb Boots, a local pharmacy store.

Yet, Four Lions offers some thoughts on religion and radicalists. The appeal of the jihad and the terrorist cell for some of these lions is camaraderie. They have a common mission and sense of belonging. It underscores the human need for relationship and fitting in. The normal way to meet these needs is through clubs, societies, organizations or churches, where healthy relationships form and foster. When people feel ostracized by society or are indoctrinated to see society as decadent and depraved, they may turn away and seek to destroy this society forming their own “reform group” for this various mission.

What is strange about Omar at least is his very normality, or appearance of such. Married with a child, he would seem to be a successful Muslim in the land he wishes to destroy. He even tells his wife and son that he wants to be a martyr and they are proud of his desire to kill himself and others. From all outward appearances, he would not be a suicide bomber. Yet, like the thriller Arlington Road, Four Lions makes clear that we can be deceived by our neighbors. We could be living next door to a killer or suicide bomber. Those like Barry are much more likely to be picked out by Homeland Security to their outspoken threats.

More than these, though, Four Lions forces us to consider what religious commitment really means. Is a suicide-bomber bent on jihad a better Muslim than a moderate who goes regularly to mosque to pray and worship Allah? Why is killing these “infidels” a sign of religious conviction?

Closer to home, what is true religious commitment in the Christian faith? Is a disciple of Jesus called to be a suicide-bomber? Yes and no. Jesus tells those following him, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). The cross was the Roman implement of death, a painful execution via crucifixion. So Jesus is telling them to put themselves to death, not literally but spiritually. This is a form of suicide, but one that does not kill others. The apostle Paul echoes this idea many times, telling us to “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13) or that “we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:11). No, instead disciples of Jesus are to be suicide-lovers, disciples of love. We are to obey the new command he gave us: “Love one another” (Jn. 13:34). And instead of blowing up our enemies, Jesus says “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).

We might ask, if we want to show our religious devotion to our God how can we do it? This is the question raised by the prophet Micah, centuries before Jesus walked the earth. “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8). There is no justice in suicide bombing or terrorism. Those are unjust and despicable acts. Love, mercy and humility are the true characteristics of a radical follower of the Lord God. These qualities produce life-giving and life-affirming acts rather than bringing death and destruction. Radical Christianity lifts Jesus up, helps those in need, and benefits society positively. Our jihad is against Satan, the true enemy of humanity.

Copyright©2011, Martin Baggs

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