Bound by Faith Bound by Faith

Muslims denounce film

THOMAS FROESE -- Times-Journal

  When it comes to religious bigotry, there may be no greater creator than Hollywood.

 In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a religion that has not found itself the victim of stereotypes in the world of the silver screen, Christian or non-Christian.

 The most recent example, according to the Islamic community, is The Siege.

  "In a sense, certain Islamic actions have set the stereotypes, but Hollywood has promoted them," said St. Thomas resident Mohammed Hammoud.

  The recently-released action-thriller shows radical Islamic terrorists attacking the United States through New York City.

  Scenes of Islamic devotion juxtaposed against violent acts leave a lasting impression, as screen heroes Bruce Willis and Denzel Washington lead America's defence.

  But like True Lies, Executive Decision, and Not Without My Daughter, this show fills moviegoers with hollow stereotypes of Muslim life, said Hammoud, 30.

  Information tracts at theatre doors are being given in some centres to help set the record straight. But knowing how to respond is tough, said Hammoud.

  "The movie makes people think we just like to build bombs in our basements," he said. "If we speak out against it, that's seen as proof we're extremists. If we say nothing, we're still seen as potential terrorists."

  A native of the war-torn Middle East, Hammoud believes recent sabre-rattling of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein can also burrow anti-Islamic falsehoods further into Canadian minds.

  About 20,000 Muslims live in the greater London region, including two dozen families in St. Thomas. Some feel they're fighting a losing battle against community shaming, said Hammoud.

  Not wanting to have his photo published for this article, for him, smalltown pressures appear real. To deal with them, he's Anglofied his name to Mike at times.

  "We feel we're fighting a losing battle," he said. "People don't want to know us."

  He cites a 1996 incident. After a March for Jesus through downtown London, a Christian minister prayed publicly against the "darkness of Islam" in Saudi Arabia.

  Hammoud responded by helping to organize a March for Tolerance, which ran the same route seven days later, to reflect both the human worth and community value of area Muslims.

  Having traveled as an adult through some of the Arab world, including Iraq, he knows all-too well how the name Allah is abused. Death can fall like a hammer on those speaking against the state religion in some Islamic nations.

  "(But) it's not the will of the people," Hammoud said. "They're dependent on them, for things like food."

  People in certain Islamic states also don't have the wherewithal, such as a free press, to protect themselves from such tyranny, he said.

  "That's why we came to Canada."

  He recalls how Valium could be bought over-the-counter to quell people's nerves in his home city of Beirut, ravaged when Muslim, Christian and Jewish factions pitted brother against brother in Lebanon's 1976-1992 civil war.

  It's a picture as good as any of how the average Middle East resident feels when that region's panoply of religious expressions are wrapped around corrupted cultural and political power structures.

  In the way the west separates tenets of the Christian faith from historic crimes committed in Christ's name, values of the Islam faith, says Hammoud, need to be detached from Islamic fanaticism seen on both the silver screen and the 11 o'clock news.

  Shahab Vafaie, a 47-year-old supervisor at Ford's St. Thomas Ford Assembly Plant, agrees.

  "There's nothing in the Koran that says you should do this type of thing," said the St. Thomas resident who's lobbying Ottawa on behalf of Bahai facing Islamic persecution in Iran.

  For his faith, Vafaie's father was thrown in Iranian jail from 1982 to 1989. According to the Bahai Community of Canada, at least 20,000 Bahai have been executed in Iran in the last 150 years.

  The Bahai are known locally as the faith group that launched a legal complaint in the 1980s about the long-time teachings of the Elgin Area Bible Club in public schools.

  That led to Ontario courts banning such "religious indoctrination" of any single faith group throughout the province's public school system.

  The Bahai suggest the world's major faiths are all valid, and should be used to unite humanity under one religion.
 

  ABOUT CHRISTIANITY

  • The world's largest religion with about 1.9 billion adherents.

  • Founded on teachings of Jewish peasant Jesus Christ.

  • Basic tenet is that Jesus Christ completes the Trinity of God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

  • Holy Book is the Bible.

      ABOUT ISLAM

  • The world's second largest religion with about 1 billion adherents known as Muslims.

  • Founded on teachings of Turkish conqueror Mohammed (570-632).

  • Basic tenet is that God (Allah) is singular, and Mohammed is his primary prophet. (Jesus Christ is a secondary prophet who did not die through crucifixion and did not rise from the dead.)

  • Holy Book is Koran

     Source: (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1995)


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