I showed this DVD to my 12-14 year-old students at the weekend school at a masjid in Augusta, GA. Before it began, I told them that the film was the story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian who refused to serve in the German army in World War II when drafted and was then executed as punishment. In the discussion which preceded the movie, one student asked me why we'd watch something about Christians. Another asked me if I wanted to show that not all Germans were bad. Class ended before we could discuss the film, so I'm eager to see what the children have to say next Sunday, and in sha Allah I'll report back.
Aside from the fact that my assigned textbook is poor in quality and the students don't read it and discussing it is painful, I showed the video to the students (and I'm recommending it to the blog readers) because it raises so many ethical and religious questions. I'm going to list a couple off the top of my head, and perhaps you can add more in your comments:
- What is a martyr, or shaheed in Arabic? I wanted to link to the Wikipedia entry, but the version I found was shockingly inaccurate. I spent some time editing it, although it is still not that good.
- Did Franz Jägerstätter object to war in general, or the specific war in which he was asked to serve?
- Is there a moral difference between one role and another role in an army? In other words, if I'm a medic who never shoots, am I better than the sniper or the person who plants the mines or the artillery spotter?
- Should Franz Jägerstätter have tried to escape from the army? In the movie, he declares his opposition at the draft board and was immediately arrested. Should he have concealed his opposition and tried to escape?
- In the movie, Franz Jägerstätter takes certain measures to reduce his involvement with the state. For example, he sells some of his land so that his agricultural production quota is reduced. He refused state assistance for storm damage. Were these measures necessary?
- By his actions, Franz Jägerstätter brought hardship to his family. Should that hardship have entered into his decision making?
- Why do undemocratic institutions like the military and totalitarian governments preserve the forms of the judicial process?
- Why was the German military eager to "settle" the case by making an arrangement whereby Franz Jägerstätter would agree to participate?
- Was the village priest a collaborator? Was he blameworthy? What about the district bishop?
- Franz Jägerstätter seemed like a lone dissenter among the villagers and the clergy. Should the fact that no one else believed like him have led him to think that he was wrong or deluded or misguided?
- Some of the villagers interviewed years later made statements to the effect that the era of the war presented no good options for anyone. They certainly did not make seem to believe that their side in the war was evil. Why might those people who lived those times not see Nazi Germany as the evil we in the United States see it as today?
p.s. On January 25, we had about 15 minutes to discuss this. I was surprised that most of the kids associated martyrdom with fighting on the battlefield. I tried to get them to understand that a martyr is a person who is killed for a good action, and that anyone who risks harm because of the good he/she does has a portion of the status of a martyr. When I asked which famous U.S. Muslim had refused military service, sadly only one of the 12 or so present realized I was talking about Muhammad Ali. In sha Allah, we'll get more discussion next Sunday. The students did enjoy the movie.