Why Ban on Brides, Boy?

14 05 2009

I came across this article while checking sgfilm.com. I think it is an interesting argument against the ban of these films during the SIFF. Here is what it says: 

I refer to the letter by Amy Chua, ‘Why Ban on Brides, Boy’ (Life Mailbag, April 11). 

In the letter, the Board of Film Censors attempted to justify its ban of the film ‘Brides of Allah’ on account of it being ‘sensitive’. It claimed that the female terrorists interviewed in the documentary ‘did not seem to be remorseful and were determined to perpetrate acts of violence should they have another opportunity’. The Board was concerned on the effect of such a film on ‘those who are like-minded’. 

This line of reasoning seems to me to be tenuous at best. There are many documentaries which portray all manner of sociopaths and deviants—including unrepentant criminals, racial supremacists and homophobic bigots. Just because they are allowed their points of view does not mean that the documentary, as a whole, necessarily endorses their perspectives. It is a grave disservice to refer to the warped ideology articulated by these terrorists as ‘the documentary’s distorted view of Islam’. This ‘distorted view’ is one held by the interviewees, and do not necessarily reflect those of the filmmaker. 

As a matter of fact, it has to be noted that the filmmaker herself is an Israeli female director, who professes at most a curiosity towards, rather than an admiration for, these female terrorists. A review of the documentary on the Hollywood Reporter states that ‘this is a film ripe with ambiguity, neither wholly sympathetic nor wholly judgmental about the subjects’. It takes a paranoiac leap of the imagination to interpret the film as one that ‘provides a platform for terrorists to champion their cause’. 

Likewise, FIPRESCI film critic Pablo Utin expresses his bewilderment at the actions of these Palestinian women. In his review, he asks, ‘How can a mother abandon her kids and husband and go to kill others by committing suicide? How can a pregnant woman put an explosive belt around her belly, right on top of her unborn son?’ Chris Barsanti of filmcritic.com concludes that ‘some of these supposed martyrs…are nothing more than homicidal maniacs given a pass by a handily convenient ideology.’ None of the reviews I have read identified the film as pro-terrorist propaganda which in the Board’s own words, ‘portray[s] terrorists or terrorist organisations in a positive light’. 

By banning the documentary, the Censorship Board assumes that a typical Singaporean filmgoer is bereft of what it patronizingly describes as ‘a discerning and mature mind’ (even after having passed 21 years of age) and is unable to reach some of the conclusions I have outlined above. More worrying is the idea that terrorists are not supposed to communicate the reasons for their chosen course of action, or rather, that the public should be shielded from their testimonies. 

There are supposed proto-terrorists now who are languishing under indefinite detention at the Whitley Detention camp. Until today, the public has yet to hear their side of the story. Denied a fair and open trial as well as access to the media, these prisoners have been effectively silenced. This veritable gag order, however, is not in the national interest. Public education on the dangers of terrorism must include an avenue where these ‘terrorists’ are allowed to make a statement on their motivations and justifications, and to defend themselves against the evidence laid against them. 

The Nuremberg trials, which allowed Nazi war criminals to testify in court, was an exemplary case in point. Despite fierce attempts by the Nazis to exonerate themselves, it was clear from those who witnessed the proceedings that the atrocities they had committed were patently indefensible. The Censorship Board, by banning ‘Brides of Allah’, has not only failed to recognize its pedagogical value, but has squandered an invaluable opportunity to educate the public on the multifaceted causes of terrorism. 

Alfian Sa’at 
Chairman 
Censorship Monitoring Committee

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