Cinemas Fight Islam Stereotypes

Berlin, February 17: The stereotypical media cliches about Islam, cultural identity, fundamentalism and honor killing are taking the central stage in this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.

“It has taken nearly 10 years after 9/11, but these issues are finally going from the headlines into the cinemas,” German director Burhan Qurbani told.

“These are things we have to talk about.”

Qurbani’s film “Shahada” (Faith) highlights the difficulty of being Muslim in a majority-Christian culture.

The film, premiers Wednesday, tells the story of three different Muslims in Germany trying to cope between their religious backgrounds and cultural identity.

“Partly, the film is about the contradictions in both cultures, about living in a culture to which one does not really belong. The twisting of identity,” said Qurbani, of Afghani origin.

The festival also sees the debut of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s new film “My Name Is Khan”.

The movie features the racial bias and profiling in the United States following the 9/11 attacks.

“On the Path” film, by director Jasmila Zbanic, explores fundamentalism, the cultural makeup and the violent history of her native Bosnia.

The festival also takes up the hot-button issue of “honor killing” in “When We Leave” by Austrian first-timer Feo Aladag.

The film shows that honor killing, portrayed in the Western media as exhorted by Islam, is a cultural act and has nothing to do with the faith.

“Honor killings are a lot older than Islam, than any religion,” said Aladag.

“There’s nothing in the Qur’an about them. Calling them Islamic is a misuse of the religion.”

Founded in 1951, the Berlin International Film Festival, also called “Berlinale”, is one of the world’s leading film festival and most reputable media events.

Media Cliches

The movie-makers eye to clear the prevailing stereotypes in the West about the Islamic faith.

“The media cliches are so strong,” said Qurbani.

“We are so lazy in just adapting the media’s bits and bytes. So comfortable in our fear of this culture that we don’t research and we don’t ask questions.

“For me, my film is an attempt to engage with Islam and start a dialogue. To make people talk about Islam.”

Zbanic, the director of “On the Path”, agrees.

“The treatment of Islam in the media is always black-and-white,” she said.

“Nobody really talks about it seriously.”

A recent British study accused the media and film industry of perpetuating Islamophobia and prejudice by demonizing Muslims and Arabs as violent, dangerous and threatening people.

Famed US academic Stephen Schwartz had also criticized the Western media for failing to meet the challenge of reporting on Islam after 9/11.

“I hope my film can start a dialogue. Up to now, we’ve just had yelling and shouting,” said Zbanic.

“I hope that the (Berlin Film Festival) audience will now be able to see both sides.”

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