Thursday, January 29, 2009

Karen Armstrong: The Role of Religion in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

Karen Armstrong's talk at the Capitol in Washington, DC with a 20-minute or so Q&A period is being distributed by the Council for the National Interest Foundation.

The talk is basically a summary of positions she has laid out in her book The Battle for God. Her prime contention is that intra-religious battles about how to react to modernity result in social identities which, in situations of stress and political conflict, emerge into fundamentalist political movements.

She takes a little more time to deal with Christian fundamentalists, but she address Jews and Muslims as well.

This talk is a great way to address people who say things like "Those people are always fighting" or "God said there would always be war" or "God says we must do such and such (politically)."

The program is 78 minutes long.

Film: Gaza Strip, by James Longley

Update: James Longley has made this film available for free. Please consider donating to support the work. Also, read the comment he made regarding Israel's July 2014 attacks on Gaza.

Gaza Strip from James Longley on Vimeo.

The documentary film Gaza Strip by James Longley runs 74 minutes. The special features include some striking still shots, a map of the Gaza Strip showing the extent of Jewish settlements in 2002 and a narrated audio track by James Longley, which I have not yet heard.

You can also read other reviews of the film.

The film includes profanity in Arabic which is then translated into the English subtitles.

The film includes a segment describing Israeli use of a gas weapon which caused neurological symptoms. I had never heard that before.

Another amazing scene is a large number of children standing around and taking cover every 10 seconds or so as gunfire breaks out, but otherwise acting as if it was normal.

The most unbearable scene is a dialog where Muhammad Hijazi, a thirteen-year old boy who appears frequently in the documentary, talks about what he thinks might happen to him after death. He relates the conversation he imagines might take place between him and God and his assignment to Hell or, perhaps, purgatory.

The film's footage was shot in 2001 (I think).

As I was watching it, I was thinking that most of my previous office co-workers would not be able to handle the truth of this movie. The Palestinians Longley interviews express a deep pessimism combined with a determination to resist.

I purchased my copy from

James Longley has also directed Iraq in Fragments. He is currently working on a documentary film about Iran.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Film: The Refusal-Story of Franz Jägerstätter, a martyr for justice

I purchased this DVD at the School of the Americas Watch rally in Columbus, Georgia, USA in November 2008. The movie was originally released in West Germany in 1971. This DVD has English subtitles available on-line, but no extra features. It runs for 95 minutes. The DVD label includes the web site for the Center for Christian Nonviolence. I spoke with John Carmodi of the center on January 26, 2009, and he told me that the web site's store was being rebuilt and it should be available again shortly. In the meantime, people who want the DVD can call 302.235.2925. [May 13, 2009-New English language translation of Franz Jägerstätter letter's and writings from prison].

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?
My main purpose in showing this movie to the students is to get them to think about these kinds of questions and to get them to expand their understanding of martyrdom.
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.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sonbolight Kids Web Site Focuses on Materials for Children to Enjoy Eid

While there are only a few items currently available from the web site, I hope that Muslims support it in the hope that it develops into a quality supplier of decorations and children's activities materials for Eid.