by Chauncey Tinker – 5 Jun 2019
Monastere de tibhirine
Image By Gamecult - Own work, Public Domain, Link
‘Of Gods and Men’ is a moving and beautiful film based on the true story of a small group of Cistercian monks who ran an abbey in Algeria until 1996. The monks got along very well with the local Muslims, joining in their celebrations, and one of the monks was a doctor who tended to the sick from the nearby village. The monks grew crops, collected honey, and sang beautifully in their small chapel. The prior, Christian de Chergé, a devout Christian, also had a keen interest in the Islamic religion, which he studied. It seems also in real life, he believed that the two religions could reach an understanding through dialogue. Many years before, while serving as a young officer during the Algerian war of Independence, his life had been saved by a Muslim.
Then one day, during the Algerian civil war, a group of jihadis arrive demanding the doctor monk come and help tend to their wounded. Christian refuses, saying that the doctor could not leave the abbey. The jihadis leave without him, but a sense of foreboding hangs over the monks from this point onward. A unit of the Algerian army arrives, their officer tries to persuade the monks to leave or accept protection, but Christian refuses and the monks remain.
Life appears to go back to normal for a while, but some of the monks are doubting whether they should remain, as their lives will clearly be in very real danger from now on. Eventually they arrive at a consensus in favour of remaining however, encouraged particularly by Christian’s strong conviction. In a very moving scene the monks listen to the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, while drinking a glass of wine, and the mixed emotions of joy and sadness that they are experiencing are revealed. Eventually another group of jihadis arrive at the mosque and take all but two of the monks prisoner. The final scene shows the monks marching in a line with the jihadis up a hill, snow is falling.
In real life apparently the monks’ heads were later discovered, but their bodies were never found. There seems to be some doubt about whether they were killed by the jihadis or by the military, but jihadis have a habit of beheading their prisoners, because the man they regard as a prophet did the same during his “most beautiful example of a life” (see Koran 33:21 and 33:26).
Of course it is tempting to react to this film as I suspect we are supposed to, by hoping that such a dialogue that Christian hoped for is indeed possible. It is also tempting to see ordinary Muslims as peaceful and tolerant people, like the villagers, who are terrorized by jihadis. The jihadis have “extremist” views and, supposedly in error, take Islamic texts in a literal way. Unfortunately although many Muslims may indeed behave in such a peaceful and tolerant way, there are also many other stories that were they to be told would reveal a very much more complicated and far less comforting picture.
I hope that one day Xavier Beauvois will make another moving and beautiful film, this time perhaps about say the story of Aasiya Bibi, another very brave Christian who spent nine long years in prison in Pakistan. The moving film will reveal how a petty dispute about a drinking vessel escalated, how the local imam encouraged a mob of local villagers (not “jihadis”, just ordinary Muslims) to attack Aasiya and her family. It will then show the scene where the police arrived to rescue her and her family, only to decide that she had in fact committed the “crime” of blasphemy, and take her away to prison.
After 18 months in prison, in appalling conditions, she was eventually sentenced to hang by a court. The sentence was later suspended, but she remained in prison, still in appalling conditions, in a bad state suffering internal bleeding for which she received no treatment. Two brave politicians, one a Christian, and one a Muslim, were assassinated for their attempts to save her from this harsh punishment. Perhaps those seeing this shocking and moving film will be reminded of the “body and soul” that Christian de Chergé referred to, the soul of course meaning Islam. According to Pew research, a majority of Muslims in Pakistan support the death penalty for such cases; many Pakistanis even said that they would be willing to execute her themselves. This film could at least have a happier ending as she was finally released and allowed to leave Pakistan.
Another story (although one that did not have a happy ending) might also be a fitting subject for a film. From the Independent:
Five sentenced to death in Pakistan for lynching and burning Christian couple in a kiln
Again the perpetrators of the crime were not “extremists” or jihadis, but rather a mob of ordinary orthodox Muslims. 103 were charged (90 of those were acquitted), but the mob numbered as many as 1,200 according to this article from NBC News:
Pakistani Christians Burned Alive Were Attacked by 1,200 People
Another story that also did not have a happy ending was the story of Mashal Khan. From DW:
Pakistan journalism student latest victim of blasphemy vigilantes
Khan was murdered in broad daylight by a mob at the university campus on Thursday. He was accused of insulting Islam by fellow students after a debate over religion the day before.
Of course if a prominent director like Xavier Beauvois were to make a film about any of these other stories then the whole world might descend into chaos, rioting could occur around the Muslim world, the French flag might be set on fire (again), and fatwas would most likely be issued for his assassination. I fear though that until the high profile film makers of the world start to make such films, such intolerance and brutality will continue to escalate, as the fear and intimidation that Islam promotes begins to gain the upper hand in the world. Only courage and honesty about the true nature of Islam can stop this tide.
There was a sad footnote to this story in 2016. From Breitbart:
Fearing Attacks, Catholic Church Gets Rid of Statues of Monks Beheaded By Muslims
Some in the area feared the statues would provoke Muslims. The Socialist Party mayor of Lyon, Miriam Poot, said she didn’t want the statues and that the church should first have consulted the district council.
Murder of the monks of Tibhirine
Details of the movie from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb):
Of Gods and Men (2010)
From the Daily Caller:
Nine things you’ll learn from Pew’s poll of the world’s Muslims
From Pew Research:
The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society
From Reuters (2017):
‘Death to blasphemers’ increasing as political rallying cry in Pakistan
Asia Bibi blasphemy case
From the Independent:
Charlie Hebdo protests: Five dead as churches and French flags burn in Niger riots over Prophet Mohamed cover
What do you think? Please leave a comment below.