Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Make better films, not bombs!


We need to create the new Muslim cinema – to promote better understanding and peace between the entire Muslim world, the West, and the rest of the world

By Mansor bin Puteh

Muslims only know how to react. We are reactionaries and reactionaries are normally those who have idle minds. They only know how to follow blindly without thinking.

We don't lead and we do not have the real leadership system in the Muslim World.

It looks like we only live to support the development of the West. We support their F1; we copy their beauty contests, their entertainment reality shows and we feel guilty if we do not behave like them.

We only know how to get angry with them unnecessarily without the awareness as to why we are angry. It is unfortunate that we channel our energy wrongly. Consequently, we lack the spirit of enterprise, discovery, adventure etc. and we stick to ourselves and are not brave to face the world. Yes, we are angry over petty issues and things. We do so because we are weak, and it is not because they are strong, but more so because we are weaker.

1429 years of Muslimhood has not taught us much, for we read the Koran wrongly and interpret the Prophet's Sunnahs to suit our fancies without understanding its essence and its intent. We have actually betrayed our religion and what it stands for. We have allowed the others to trample on us and belittle us on almost all fronts. But how could the 1.6 billion Muslims, worldwide in 57 countries and all the others can be said to be weak and almost irrelevant to the development of the modern world?

We chose to be weak. We chose not to have or develop our own film, artistic, intellectual, academic, science and technology and media centers as well as the other centers.

The Muslim World therefore, does not exist. It only exists in our mind; it is just a figment of our imagination when all else are difficult to contemplate, and it is only when the OIC leaders meet once every two years, to come up with and pass some useless resolutions.

The Muslim World is no doubt a parasite of the West, which had benefited from us for too long, especially from our natural resources, our expertise and our tardiness. How long must we allow ourselves be in such a despicable situation? Is it very difficult to break the vicious circle of despair and destitute?

No, it is not. There is a way. The way is cheap, dirt cheap, in fact. It is to introduce the Muslim Cinema and develop the Melaka Film City. This is a gist of the paper I presented in the First International Muslim Filmmakers' Conference held in Tehran, Iran, in February 1994.

If the Muslim leaders want to do something useful for once, this is what it is. No point in promoting the F-1 races, inviting Celine Dion to cheer us, for it is a temporary diversion. During the races and the concerts, how many other Muslims will die of starvation throughout the world. Do they care? Let's have an open forum to discuss this issue.

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Perhaps the creation of a New Muslim Cinema is what we need. It can finally be able to check the problems of the world, especially between the Muslim World and the West, and promote a more equitable and peaceful world. It may be the only means that we have at our disposal that had never been utilized fully.

A shocker for a start? Not really.

Just consider this: Diplomacy has its limits. The politicians have proven that. political wrangling is an effort in futility and it often muddles the problems when they get worse. When the Islamic world keeps on wrangling over issues that were previously unattached, we find that we have added more complications to the problems.

Hundreds of millions of innocent people, across the world suffer quietly. We don’t even know where and who they are. Even those who had suffered more than half a century ago, are still suffering. They pass this legacy of suffering to their off-springs like it had become part of their DNA strain.

Meanwhile political leaders change and new ones appear, often with a lot of fanfare, like they had just descended from the mountains in triumph. The old ones move on to do other things before they kick the bucket, while their successors repeat their errors and make statements that hardly benefits anybody.

We have seen enough of political ‘shadow play’ or wayang kulit performances in the United Nations. We have now become familiar to the antics of these International Bodies. They are not special anymore. They are just a change of cast with the same dialogue and gestures with venom.

Meanwhile, we suffer – I mean the whole world suffers. Sadly many in America also suffer. Although they may not be physically affected by what the others suffer, but they suffer quietly and psychologically.

So, it’s time we did something unusual and unorthodox and even if it may be too far-fetched to comprehend. The cinema may be our ultimate salvation for a world that had been so badly fractured, abused and sadly neglected too. And there is light – even a single one that flickers at twenty-four frames per second!

It may be a simplistic and a seemingly far-fetched idea, but it is definitely one that deserves to be tried, because all other attempts had failed miserably. What else can we count on now? Since we never had any better solutions in the past, creating a film industry to put forth Islam in a better perspective perhaps would give us a hope to hold on to.

We certainly do not need to have more forums, seminars and conferences and all sorts of peace initiatives. These are all efforts that have been tried many times in the past. In fact, the problems of the Muslims and consequently the world, have now become worst and this has affected their relationship with the rest of the world, particularly the West.

Nonetheless, all the problems faced by the Muslims and the others are simplistic, if one cares to look at the whole equation in the widest possible perspective and from all angles, instead of just listening to self made theories from officials on both sides.

Some say it’s all about O-I-L. Others say its hegemony. However, isn’t this huge world wise enough that they have to entertain such lofty and useless ambitions? Otherwise, the outer space is there for them to partake whatever they want for their continued sustenance!

If you do not have oil to cook food, you normally get it at the supermarket. Or you can smile and put out your hand and get your neighbour to offer some oil to you. However, you will not just break into your neighbour’s house and grab his stock of oil, leaving him empty handed. Incidentally too you find that he is not unfriendly with you and you take advantage of his goodness and attempt to impose your ideas on him. You begin by forcing him to rearrange his furniture telling him his ways are wrong and yours are right and you want to help him improve his lot and that of his family. He was however doing well before you wanted his oil. He may not have as much wealth as you have, but he was managing sufficiently well and it was enough for him to get by contently in life.

May be the filmmakers and the cinemas can finally neutralise everything and reverse it. Or, at least try to halt the further escalation of the problems before it continues to spread to more countries and areas in the world and turning it to pieces, and make the political leaders realise their folly.

We have also seen how the same international political leaders from both sides of the divide have squabbled and often returned to their respective countries not being able to do anything.

Meanwhile, those who suffer are the ordinary folks who are mostly Muslims. They might not even know if a war had caused them to suffer – or if it was really the end of the world? The two seem to be alike to many of them especially for those who live in remote areas and who do not have proper communication and do not watch television and who listen only to the opinion of their tribal leaders, sages and warlords.

The Muslim World which is defined as all the 57 countries which are members of the Organisation of Islamic Organisation (OIC) is vast. Unfortunately it is devoid of life and the so-called Muslim World does not even exist as an entity.

Nothing interesting is happening in it. Muslims who are living in it find it a drab. We do not have many things including a cinema industry that we can call our own. We also do not have much of a media organisation to serve our special needs, without having to depend on those that had been in existence all this while. Muslims generally lead a parasitic existence.

There is also a problem of image faced by Muslims and Islam in general. The many kinds of news we ‘make’ as reported by ‘them’ seem to be the kinds that made us look rather helpless and the Muslims constantly look lost in front of their guns and tanks.

Stories of the death of scores of Muslims do not make Muslims in other parts of our world feel agitated anymore. They are just daily news. Even the television stations and newspapers in most Muslim countries now prefer to give more space and coverage to films and modern Western culture than the deaths of Muslims. The Islamic world have accepted this drawback as a norm.

I for one who am trained in the film industry, believe by creating a New Muslim Cinema Industry will finally have a miraculous effect on the Entire Islamic World and also the West, who will then get to know us even better. It is not going to be just a film industry which caters to the puerile tastes of the viewers, but one that has a mission. It comes with a more profound purpose – to stabilize our senses to make them more attractive to the idea of promoting peace than to be agitated by the intense desire to be engaged in a war.

It will also be an industry that will be able to create, artistic, intellectual and creative leaders amongst the Muslims and the non-Muslims, especially among those who are involved in its development and expansion – so they can become better recognised and influential for their intellect, creativity and ingenuity, in the country and in the entire Muslim World.

If this does not happen, the chances are that some will find it expedient to turn the knowledge that they had acquired while studying at prestigious universities in America and the West for other nefarious and counter productive purposes.

The center for the New Muslim Cinema can be in Malaysia – a non-Arab, Asian Muslim country which can help to shift all the paradigms and stand in between the Middle East and the West. There are many other better reasons that can support such an establishment.

We can have this multi-billion-dollar film industry that can become the core industry in the entire Muslim World, around which the other industries, such as banking, airline, automobile, travel, education and publication, and so on, can further develop.

Those who are the major players in these secondary industries have been drawing too much attention for themselves for too long without serving the more profound cause of promoting greater understanding amongst Muslims and between Muslims, other than to fulfill their greed to make more money and expand their company. So it’s time they are shown where their places are in the real context of the development of the entire Muslim World.

It can further enhance Islam and Muslims in the West so they are able to relate with us better - since we now do exist.

Hong Kong with a population of a mere six million, produces 120 feature films each year for the World’s Chinese market. So surely, we as a world of 1.5 billion people can come up with hundreds and possibly a thousand interesting feature films to share amongst ourselves and with the others.

It’s too bad that the Islamic Development Bank – IDB 1440 H Mission that was recently launched with a lot of fanfare in Kuala Lumpur is both weak and badly flawed. It has failed to include the need to create the New Muslim Cinema Industry – a term I am introducing – as one of its main goals to achieve. No filmmaker had been consulted and asked to offer suggestions to be included in it. They always think that only politicians, industrialists and economists can come up with all the brilliant ideas that serve the needs of the Muslim World.

In the past they have tried it out with only these politicians, economists and industrialists being consulted to enhance the Islamic development programmes and have failed? Why have they not studied carefully all those 170 resolutions that were passed in all the sixteen OIC Conferences over the last few decades that didn’t mean anything to the Muslim World and Muslims? Neither did it take into consideration about the millions of Muslims in the non-Muslim countries. China has several millions of Muslims. It is also regrettable that India with its 2nd or 3rd largest Muslim population in the world is not accepted as a member of the OIC. India I was told made its application during the late Mrs. Indra Gandhi’s Premiership. Therefore, with India being left outside of the OIC, this Islamic Organisation is not well represented.

I hope the fifty-seven leaders of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) won’t feel inferior when they read that none of the 170 resolutions, the OIC had since adopted have or have almost failed to benefit the Islamic world. The reason that these resolutions cannot be implemented is because they are not practical and are heavily influenced by the West. The OIC is aware of this. As such many feel the OIC resolutions are better than, if they are written on used toilet paper!

Perhaps all of the OIC leaders should know that the entire Muslim World is an incomplete entity because we do not have a cinema to call our own. We not only do not have film and television centers, but also do not have a media, banking and other important centers that when connected will ultimately create a semblance of our own world.

And because of this there is no focus and the social, cultural, artistic and economic development of the entire Muslim World cannot be gauged and for the West to relate to. We only have some activities in many fields. And they are at different levels of development, neglected or in disrepair.

For as long as we do not have these centers at different parts of the Muslim World, there is no chance for the entire Muslim World to be developed and its people to be recognised and accepted as part of the world. We will be fractured by our differences because the we have not taken full advantage of our resources, the Muslim people and their capabilities. In fact, we have not even attempted to take advantage of our commonalities!

It is even worse, for we find the militants hiding in some of these fissures, are having a full day creating havoc all over the world. The number of these so-called Muslim militants will increase in number if the fissures become larger until they are able to create cracks that will drive the World Muslim Ummah against each other, if there is no attempt to close these fissures. I’m afraid, that this is what is happening at an accelerated phase.

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I am afraid too that many Harvard-trained economists that we have in our midst too, have failed to realise that we can create a new and exciting film industry that acts and further enhance the nation’s economic, social, cultural and political development while helping to bridge the wide social, cultural, political and religious divide that exists in the country as well as between the entire Muslim World and the West.

And it can also be a major contributing factor to the growth of the economy of the Muslim World and beyond. It can be a major source for employment that can absorb many of the unemployed graduates that we have today. Since we have an important film industry we need highly qualified people and not those who are not trained or who are school dropouts.

Our historians too have failed to highlight this matter. Don’t they know that the film industry has been in existence for more than 112 years, yet they do not know how civilizations and cultures, especially Western culture was developed and expanded – by the existence of their cinema? What is America without Hollywood? America will be much like Lesotho if otherwise.

It’s too bad that even our philosophers, thinkers and our political leaders, have failed to highlight these facts. We need to have a vibrant cinema that produces hundreds of meaningful feature films on the beauty of our religion, countries and peoples, and thousands of films of many types, including documentaries, etc, so that we can share them amongst ourselves in the entire Muslim World. In the end we can become self-sufficient and be able to promote greater goodwill and understanding amongst ourselves and with the rest of the world.

Once we have a vibrant and productive film industry that serves the need of the entire Muslim World, we can also recapture our television from having been taken away by the outsiders who provide us with cheap programs. These programs are brought in proudly by our stations because we cannot produce sufficiently educative and meaningful shows, films and programmes and often airing alien values that many of our young and the adults as well are accepting without questioning.

And the press in all our Muslim countries, too, have failed to highlight this fact.

The cinema may be our only salvation to create the bridge that lasts between the Muslim World and the West for long-term benefits for all. Even if the light that it creates is one that flickers at twenty-four frames per second it is far better than being without any.

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