There is a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) where he spoke of the concepts of lesser and greater jihad. The lesser, or outer, jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) is related to military struggle, whereas the greater, or inner, jihad (al-jihad al-akbar) is the struggle of personal self-improvement by battling against the self’s base desires, against the nafs, against the ego, etc. The hadith is as follows: “The Prophet (SAW) returned from one of his battles, and thereupon told us, ‘You have arrived with an excellent arrival, you have come from the Lesser Jihad to the Greater Jihad – the striving of a servant (of Allah) against his desires.'”
Whilst this hadith is considered by Islamic scholars to be weak at best, it is nonetheless mentioned in many Islamic books, articles, and talks. It occurred to me that the concepts of the hadith can be applied to two Hollywood movies that have caused a wee bit of controversy recently: Selma and American Sniper. Both were released recently (Dec 2014 – Jan 2015), and both are true stories based on real life events.
American Sniper is about the Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (‘The most lethal sniper in US history’ is the movie tag line), his tours of duty of Iraq, and how this affected his home life. American Sniper has been accused of inaccuracies, Fox News style propaganda and bias, negative portrayal of Iraqis and Muslims, etc, and all this in the shadow of the recent Paris Charlie Hebdo shooting. Since the box office record breaking release of this movie, Islamophobic incidents and rhetoric in America have increased, to the point where the studio have had to say something publicly.
Selma, on the other hand, is about Martin Luther King and his epic civil rights march from the town of Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Selma is released in an all together different shadow, that of black unarmed civilians being shot in America by white police officers, mass demonstrations, riots, etc, especially in relation to incidents in the town of Ferguson, Missouri.
American Sniper is directed by the staunchly Republican octogenerian white male Clint Eastwood, who has essentially made a military cowboy movie. Eastwood is the winner of several Academy Awards and has a distinguished career. Selma, again on the other hand, is directed by Ava DuVernay, a black woman half the age of Clint Eastwood. With Selma, DuVernay is the first black female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, though she did not receive a nomination for best director.
Clint is the one on the right…
Much has been written about these two movies, about how Selma has been snubbed during awards season in favour of American Sniper, which also did much better box office. Here are some of the better articles written on these movies:
- America’s tragic journey from Selma to American Sniper
- Civil war at the cineplex: “American Sniper,” “Selma” and the battle over American masculinity
- ‘American Sniper’ – Evidence of the Swamp of Moral Depravity in Which America Is Sinking
- ‘American Sniper’ vs. ‘Selma’: Hollywood Takes Sides, Aim
- “American Sniper’s” Muslim problem: How Clint Eastwood embraces Chris Kyle’s toxic ideas (RECOMMENDED!)
It seems to me that American Sniper represents America’s lesser jihad, where it goes out into the world and fights what it believes to be the good fight, it’s version of holy war. American Sniper is America fighting the ‘other’, the bogey man, the external threat, on foreign soil, a soil that is never as good as home grown American soil. The enemy in this case is easy to identify (a foreigner, not one of us), someone who looks nothing like ‘us’. And because ‘they’ are easy to target, ‘they’ are easy to kill. So they are killed, in there thousands.
Selma represents the greater jihad. Once you return from your overseas adventures, you come home to face the hardest of enemies: yourself. America still has a problem with race, and recent events clearly show this to be true. The recent demonstrations in places like Missouri were something that Dr King would have, unfortunately, so easily identified with.
Anyway, just a thought…