Life & Culture

Watch a Film about the Collision of Commerce and Faith in Saudi Arabia

As his film Exit to Al-Haram premieres on NOWNESS, filmmaker Kazim Rashid writes a short essay on the duality of modern Arabic life, Islamophobia and censorship

Censor Me Senseless

In Arabic, ‘Ḥarām’ means ‘sinful’ and ‘forbidden’ or, with a slight inflection, ‘sanctuary’ and ‘sacred’. It is this contradiction that my film Exit to Al-Haram attempts to explore: good and evil; devotion and exploitation; the collision of commerce and faith.

The film explores not only how these ideas work side by side, but how they need each other in order to survive. It asks: if the root of religion is love, then why is the root of so much evil religion? Why do these two things need each other? Can there be love without hatred? Can there be hope without fear? As an artist, I’m interested in these conflicts.

I was recently asked why I thought it was an important time to champion Muslim artists. I think it’s always a good time to champion artists, regardless of their background, but I sensed the question alluding to the current socio-political climate, where Islamophobia is on the rise – and has been since 9/11.

Islamophobia is such an incredibly violent narrative, which has given birth to a complex, interwoven family of sub-narratives, that are equally violent and rooted in fear. I’m interested in the effect this has on people, and what art can do to counteract it. The prospect of fear-mongering around Islam, as well as the rise of individualism driven by fear is scary – but that’s what we’re seeing all over the world. Historically, there has been a fear of the Other, but now it seems like we’re becoming afraid of each other, simply as a defence mechanism.

We have seen the bloody effects of this on a global scale, but within the context of art it plays out much more subtly through the acts of censorship and silencing. To me, censorship feels like a devil in disguise – an age-old paradigm designed to silence anything that deviates from the narrative the mainstream want to see prosper. Censorship is the battleground on which diversity and hegemony are at war. It seems to me to be a war between searching for truths – which make our world more textured, exciting, liberal and progressive – versus hegemony, a sea of sameness and convenience. Convenient diversity is the mask the hegemony wears while it’s trying to trick us into believing it’s trying. It shows a convenient and narrow view of diversity, which doesn’t get any closer towards a genuine power-shift.

As an artist, I am committed to fighting this battle against all of these convenient truths. Within the Muslim world there is a ginormous amount of censorship; I have experienced multiple moments of censorship and silencing at the hands of Muslims and non-Muslims, fellow artists and press, galleries and funding bodies. Everybody seems to be committed to playing it safe and not inciting any reactions. The hatred has bred such intense precaution that everyone is afraid of violence and more hatred. Instead we should be absolutely committed to telling real stories which are true, complex and nuanced. Stories which reflect the texture and beauty in our society. We should be making work which makes sense of the senseless and explores the sensual.

In Islam and Arabic culture there is a term, ‘the Ummah’, which is used to describe the growing global Muslim population. All 1.8 billion of us worldwide, in almost every country on the planet, including and especially the man who set up the first kebab shop in Norway.

I want to tell as many stories about these people as possible. I want the Muslim and non-Muslim community alike to create a better understanding of the Ummah – the sex, the lies, the truths, the sordid, the funny, the radical, the majestic, the mystical, the poetic. I want to make work for the bad immigrants, as well as the good ones.