Saturday, February 03, 2007

Panel Cinematic Islam - Muslims in Cinema

29. German Orientalists Day
Panel Cinematic Islam - Muslims in Cinema

Ala Al-Hamarneh and Ruth Roded

From the advent of cinema at the turn of the nineteenth century, Islamic themes were represented in European films (often spuriously) and in indigenous Middle Eastern newsreels, documentaries and dramatic films. Middle Eastern cinematic portrayals of Islam were, however, initially hampered by a tradition in large parts of the region that prohibited visual depiction of the Prophet Muhammad and other major Islamic figures (with the notable exceptions of Turkey, Iran and further eastern areas which had a history of visual presentation of Islamic themes, mainly in the fine arts). After sporadic attempts to depict Islamic religion and history in Middle Eastern cinema during the 1920s through the 1940s, a series of Arab films focusing on classical Islam were produced from the 1950s as religious authorities and political and cultural elites gradually began to recognize the impact of this audio-visual medium. Some of these cinematic presentations are popular to this day, disseminated through the media of television and video. At the same time, Middle Eastern films may have addressed contemporary Islamic practices on the margins of major plot lines.

In the wake of the rise of political Islam in the last decades, Middle Eastern governments as well as intellectual elites have harnessed television and film to offset the popularity of Islamist movements among the broad public. Religious and historical television series and critical movies were produced by Egyptian, Iranian, Lebanese, Tunisian and Algerian filmmakers. At the same time, Muslim filmmakers in the west have carried out a double dialogue with “Islamic” societies and characters, as well as with European and American culture. Their films often stereotype the self and the other in a phenomenon dubbed by Edward Said “Orientalistic Orientalism”.

The film production of Hollywood and various European countries have in general been informed by Western stereotypes and images of “the Orient” and “Islam.” The re-production and the re-presentation of such clichés by a cinematic “Eurocentric Orientalism”, as it is called by Ella Shohat, dominate the cinematic scene, although they may be nuanced by political developments.

In this panel we aim to explore theoretical aspects of cinematic presentations of alterity and of self-presentation in an age of on-going aggressive cultural globalization and in a media that was globalized from its onset. We would like to focus on various aspects of Islam and Muslims projected on the screen, such as religious practices, alternate interpretations, gender, spatial etc. Case studies of films and filmmakers are highly encouraged.

Moderated panel

Claudia Preckel: The portrayal of Kashmir mujahidun in Bollywood cinema

Abstract: The Indian Muslim community watches every film, in which Muslim life in India is portrayed with great suspicion. Several films, e.g. Gadar ("Rebellion", A. Sharma 2001) even caused communal riots. A common reproach of the Muslim community against Bollywood cinema is that it "has gone saffron," which means completely overtaken by the Hindu majority. Muslims claim that they are portrayed as the only minority, which has not become part of the Indian nation. Indeed, the portrayal of Islam in Bollywood seems to be marked my stereotypes and even misconceptions about this religion. This is further underlined the fact that Bollywood discovered its national trauma as a subject of popular films, namely the Kashmir conflict. This paper examines three films, which depict the fight of the Muslim Kashmir mujahidun, namely K. Mohammed`s Fiza (1999), V.V. Chopra`s Mission Kashmir (2000) and M. Rathnam`s Roja (1992, re-released in Hindi 2002). The paper will focus on the question as to how Islam and Islamic justification of jihad is portrayed. Further, it will address the notions of violence and the (over-) emphasis on masculinity and the idealisation of the male hero. This will be contrasted to the depiction of female every-day life in India. Thirdly, a short analysis of icons and symbols used to stress and Islamic identity will be given.

Ruth Roded: Gender and Religious Visual Messages: Disseminating the Life of the Prophet Muhammad on Film and Video

Ala Al-Hamarneh: Stereotyping the Other: Cinematic Migrations to the "West" in Egyptian Film

Ingy Al-Sayed: Portraying Muslim Activists in Egyptian Film

Eldad J. Pardo: Trauma and Gender in the Cinema of the Islamic Republic of Iran

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