By Laksiri Fernando –
I was delighted to see the story item in the Colombo Telegraph (27 April 2013) last night about the ‘Rally for Unity’ organized by some ‘unknowns’ on the general slogan “Hate has No Place in Sri Lanka” to be held at Green Path (in few hours’ time from now) and then saw this commendable movie “The Reluctant Infidel” on SBS One at 9.30pm, Sydney time. The connection was too obvious.
The organizers of the ‘Rally for Unity’ declared that the purpose is “to show that moderates are strong and united against hate and are committed to promote understanding about the strengths of diversity and unity.” This was exactly the purpose of the movie I saw.
The movie was initially called in Britain just ‘The Infidel.’ The Australian producer added ‘reluctant’ in between for attraction or precise meaning. The writer David Baddiel thought that people are generally and irrationally obsessed and even terrified about their religion and race/ethnicity. When they go into identity crisis on these matters what they should actually do is to ‘step into the other one’s shoes’ and take a deep breath and laugh. It was with these thoughts that he wrote the script.
The rally organized today is not however a laughing matter. We still have to see how the law enforcement agencies, obviously on the government instructions, would treat the peaceful protesters. They were rough and in fact ‘unlawful’ at the last candle light vigil. As the organizers have emphasized, the effort is completely “non-partisan and a non-violent awareness campaign” organized by a “voluntary movement of concerned Sri Lankans from various institutions, professions and industries” who are opposing the “recent hate speech and the marginalization of minority communities in general.”
There is obviously a new type of protests emerging in Sri Lanka, a new social movement (NSM), so to say, among those who are against hate speech in this instance but could embrace many other injustices in the future. I first saw this phenomenon emerging during the Tsunami calamity in December 2004. Some youngsters came to the University of Colombo, obtained permission to hold a candle light vigil at the sports grounds to collect funds for the Tsunami victims and within hours they organized the event through SMS etc. with the participation of hundreds of people at that time. They were ‘Colombans’ from appearance but some of them came from remote rural Sri Lanka working in the private sector in Colombo. The expansion of the service sector is the backbone of these social sections.
Let me get back to the movie, ‘The Reluctant Infidel.’
Mahmud Nasir is a successful small business owner in a London suburb, who always fights with his Jewish neighbor, Lenny Goldberg. Lenny is a taxi driver. After his mother’s demise, Mahmud discovers an adoption certificate among old documents which reveals that he was adopted from a Jewish family and his original name was Solly Shimshillewitz.
Mahmud although, or being, a funny man by nature goes into deep identity crisis with sleepless nights, frequent tantrums and virtual absent mindedness. His behavior has gone topsy-turvy. He tells his wife that he has to reveal ‘something about himself’ but doesn’t tell. Wife thinks that he is probably gay and even informs the local Imam for advice. Mahmud approaches his old adversary, Lenny, and he is most willing to offer help being an infidel himself and feeling amused about his Muslim adversary becoming a Jew now. This leads to more suspicions about his gayness, his new friend Lenny being a bachelor.
Mahmud’s son, Rashid, is engaged to Azma, the stepdaughter of a devout Muslim cleric, Arshad Al-Masri. When Mahmud reveals that he was a Jew (not he is), the engagement breaks down. Mahmud’s family also leaves him.
Mahmud finds his biological father Izzy Shimshillewitz in a Jewish old care center through Lenny. But he cannot see his father before latter’s death prevented by the Rabbi in charge, not believing the connection. How can you believe a Muslim son of a Jewish father! Izzy has given Soli for adoption in two weeks of his birth when Izzy’s wife dies at the child birth. Izzy has known that his son is a Muslim. Mahmud slowly overcomes his identity crisis, realizing that ‘he was a Jew,’ but now ‘he is a Muslim,’ although not a fanatic. He keeps friendship with the newly found Jewish friends. Both Lenny and Mahmud are ‘infidels.’
Mahmud finally manages to bring his son, Rashid, and Azma together by exposing the cleric, Arshad Al-Masri. Arshad in fact had been a rock star in the name of Gary Page whose original parents were scientologists. The movie ends with the interfaith wedding of Rashid and Azma attended by both Muslism and Jews.
The movie reveals the ‘impermanence’ of all categories of religion and race/ethnicity. Both should be taken in moderation. The unity in diversity is the best option for multiethnic and multi religious societies like Sri Lanka as the participants of the Rally for Unity will signify. Hate has no place in a civilized society. As one poster for the rally says, ‘Racism Stops with Me.’