Faith Shorts: The Power of Al Qaeda’s Images
26 Nov 2012
If you have ever looked at a film on an al Qaeda website — and I don't recommend it — you'll be struck by how Hollywood it looks. Lawrence of Arabia crossed with Che Guevara. Much waving of scimitars and stirring music followed by obligatory shots of terrorists with their AK47s in a desert. However they rate as pieces of cinema, you know how many lives can be tracked back to these websites.
Do none of those seduced by these images notice how Western and fake it all looks? People of faith can do better than that at getting out their alternative message. In the authentic expression of faith and feelings about religion, young people competing in the Tony Blair Faith Foundation's Faith Shorts competition tonight make a better job of getting out their message through their film-making.
Each year their creativity and desire to show the true face of their religion — in just three minutes — is on show. What they produce is evidently from the heart, not a phoney heroism but a savouring of what light their faith sheds on their lives. The judges are taken from all walks of life — cardinals, grand muftis, rabbis, film experts — but they all respond to their sincerity, creativity and integrity.
This year we have two shortlisted films from British Muslims showing their perspective on Islam. There is also an Israeli film-maker who is struggling with faith but mastering animation techniques that would get Wallace and Gromit's approval.
We can see in the conflicts of the Middle East the consequences of young people not understanding their own faith and having a distorted picture of their neighbours' beliefs. They experience not Judaism, Islam and Christianity but the behaviour of Christians, Jews and Muslims. They can draw some very wrong conclusions.
The recent crisis in Gaza shows the depth of the problem. Political solutions require face-to-face discussion. Ingrained attitudes, religious stereotypes, learnt in youth, can make this impossible.
This is why good authoritative education about faith is so vital. My Faith Foundation's Face to Faith programme brings classrooms around the world together through videoconferences. It tries to play this role. It allows young people to talk about their faith in a secure environment with trained teachers to learn from each other and tell their story. The communications revolution is a gift even if it can be grievously abused. We communicate today so much in images and film.
If we sometimes despair of the sadly manipulated young people who are ready to die, and kill innocents, for a fantasy world of the wicked Westerner and the noble martyr, shehada, these films are an antidote.
Film is a powerful medium for communicating values. We need to use this power against those who would manipulate British Muslims into violence and those who, through false fears and insecurity, hate all Muslims. This is what the Faith Shorts awards ceremony, the home of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, will be doing tonight. Through films like these we can build understanding about faiths and help combat ignorance and fear, often the root cause of conflict.