One of the funniest films I have watched is Chris Morris’s dark comedy Four Lions, which is a movie that follows a group of jihadists and their absurd schemes to become glorified suicide bombers. While often interpreted as offensive and as a gross misrepresentation of Muslim people, the film was made as a commentary on the absurdity of extremism.
Actor Nigel Lindsay as Barry, a white convert to Islam, and Arsher Ali as Hassan, a student who follows Barry’s radical schemes.
What can be seen in that dark humor is how the different ideologies of the group parallel the different ideologies of other religions. Barry’s character is a white convert to Islam and he is also the most radical of the group, with proposed ideas to bomb a mosque in order to “radicalize the moderates”. Omar’s character is the leader of the group and he is also the most humanized character because he is portrayed with a family, a steady job, and he is shown as someone rational and smart enough to be able to criticize the ideas of the other jihadists and he is also able to lead the group into choosing an “acceptable” target to bomb. The contrast in how the two characters believe they should set up their jihad is a representation of how other religious group think as well. The different ways in which people interpret religion are often responsible for conflicts and this is a topic that the film reflects through the clashing ideologies of the characters.
Omar and Barry arguing in the film about what should be their target.
I was able to connect this film to my own religion and I could apply many of the criticisms that the movie delivers about Islamic extremism to Christian extremism. As a child my family was incredibly conservative but as I grew older and many of the churches we attended disbanded, my family became more and more liberal. Having watched the film, the ridiculousness of the jihadists is a similar ridiculousness that I remember growing up in a conservative household. The Harry Potter franchise dealt with “witches and sorcerers” and therefore it was a Satanic agent that I was forbidden from watching. Disney movies had secret demonic and pedophilia themed messages and so those were banned from the household too. Once my younger brother was born, my parents became lenient, and we were able to watch those films. I believe that my parents realized that watching something fictional was not going to influence my faith and therefore it would be okay to allow me to watch those movies. Like in Four Lions, my family thought that there was only one way to follow religion and that everyone who did not agree with that way was wrong and was working against that religion. My parents have changed though, and I am grateful that we have been able to see the world with more open minds, but like the characters in Four Lions, there are still extremists today that believe that they have to wage a war against “pagans”.
Christian booklets that highlight the evils of witchcraft.
There is a line from Four Lions that reminds me of the similarity between Islamic extremism and Christian extremism. When addressing Hassan after his stint at the debate, Barry says, “Islam is cracking up. We got women talking back. We got people playing stringed instruments. It’s the end of days!” This line shows that the main characters in the movie are mainly against any progressive movements because they feel it threaten their religion and this way of interpreting their fight for religion is what leads them to become suicide bombers. In Christian extremism, people use Christianity as a justification to mistreat and control the lifestyle of minority groups, people from the LGBTQ+ community, women, and other people who they believe are either against religion or need to be controlled by religion.
Defining extremism is not an easy thing to do and there is no clear cut answer to it except that it is often used with a negative connotation. In the film, Sofia, Omar’s wife, wears a hijab. This choice that Muslim women make is often viewed as a sign that Islam makes women submissive or that it takes away a woman’s power and therefore the practice is sometimes labeled as “extreme”. But in the film, Sofia is not shown as a submissive wife to Omar. She has a job in a hospital and the film makes it clear that she is a “free woman” in her house. Omar is even criticized by his (ironically) more fundamentalist Muslim brother Ahmed for not “controlling” Sofia. When arriving at Omar’s house to dissuade him from being a suicide bomber, Ahmed at first refuses to speak because Sofia is in the same room. When Sofia comments about Ahmed keeping the women from his group separate in a small room, Ahmed replies to Sofia, “I don’t argue with women.” Rather than remain quiet or have her husband speak, Sofia retorts, “No, you don’t. You lock ’em in a cupboard.” Omar is then criticized for not following Sharia law and “controlling” his wife. Here Sofia is shown to have more freedom than the women in Ahmed’s group, and her husband Omar is never shown speaking down to her or making her “submissive” so her choice to wear a hijab is unrelated to Islamic extremism. Now Omar’s choice to be a suicide bomber is indeed a form of extremism because his form of jihad involves hurting other people. I believe that that is the point of extremism, where religion is used to justify actions against others. Sofia’s hijab harms nobody and no one used the religion of Islam as a justification to force her to wear it, but her husband Omar is using his religion to justify killing people.
Scene with Omar, Sofia, and Ahmed described above.
In Christianity, principles of virtue are mainly (and unfairly) applied mostly to women. I grew up being taught that abstinence up until marriage is a Christian practice I should follow. My father gave me a purity ring on my 15th birthday and that was meant to symbolize my vow of chastity. This Christian practice is also seen as a form of extremism because it limits the sexual nature of people by making them promise not to engage in any sexual activities until marriage. For a long time I absolutely loathed the ring I wore. I hated it because I felt that it represented a constraint against any choice I wanted to make. I knew that the ring I wore would never be imposed upon my younger brother, but had he been my sister instead, surely there would be one on her finger today. I also felt that if I did not follow what the ring represented then I would be a “bad person”. It was not until recently that I came to terms with what the ring represents to me. I was mainly worried about whether or not I would change my mind in the future and I decided that waiting until marriage is something I want to do, not just because of my religion, but for myself and my own corny beliefs about love. While I did feel at first that this religious practice was something I was forced to do, I know that I always had a choice and I was able to make up my mind at any point on what I wanted to do. Accepting to wear the purity ring and to follow through with the practice is not a form of extremism. I am by no means oppressed by a religious system because I ultimately chose this for myself. Now what would be a true form of Christian extremism is targeting LGBTQ+ groups because the people are “full of sin”. Expressing acts of hate against other people with the justification of religion is an act of extremism. The choice I make with my purity ring hurts no one (maybe my dad’s feelings), but being hateful to others for the sake of religion is wrong and some Christian people endorse this extreme behavior with the intent of fulfilling their own interpretation of scriptures rather than focusing on improving their own lives.
If you search “purity ring” on in web, most rings will be targeted towards women. Not men, of course.
The movie Four Lions pokes fun at the extremism in religion and it also reveals that extremism exists in other religions besides Islam. While extremism can be mistaken for misinterpreted practices, I believe that practices are extreme once they become harmful to others or to the practicing person. The man sitting in the Oval Office is an extremist. He is leading the American country in a war against people of color, minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, and women all because of his religious interpretation of what is right and wrong. By using his power to control the lives of other people, his actions are a form of extremism. In the end of the movie, Omar realizes that he wrongly manipulated Waj, his child-like cousin, into participating as a suicide bomber. Omar sees that he took away Waj’s choice and tries to prevent Waj from succeeding in blowing himself up. If a fictional terrorist, as absurd and wrong as his actions are, can see that taking away someone’s choice is too extreme, why does our president not see that taking away our choices and limiting the freedom of certain groups of people is abominable?