for love of god

for love of  god, so many slain across the miles and still today.  the zealot in his practiced way keeps holy all the corners of his world.  sunup, sundown, midday, midnight, a ritual, a code that can be known, recited and repeated and recorded and itself revered, as if it,the ritual, the code, the canon of those things that must be holy, delivers sanctuary.   the holy man will never hear the gnashing of the teeth and tearing of the flesh upon the battlefields or in the tenements and old age homes or on the streets even in the curtained dreams of the powdered and the pampered congregations that flock to the worship halls, the temples and the churches giving of their riches or their poverty to something certain that they may  clutch through the long and frightening nights and desperate days when wars are fought for  love of god.

for love of god, she is cast away, among the shunned, her name not spoken; no other creed can be for them as good as their own: any children born will not be blood of this family, though they have the same dark crescent shape in the brown color of  the eye.  nearly, above all else, family is  holy, to be honored, gloried, cherished manifest power and security, prosperity, unity,the living demonstration of the goodness of the natural order. no forgiveness, only banishment, for she who chose to take a step away, to give her love,to break the code, to make a life with one who has a different creed, to place her own happiness, her self, above community, above the love of god.

for love of god, he held the light of life within his hands and then ended it.  piously, he spoke the words he learned when he became a man, calling out all honor and praise to the powerful being, but secretly he was shamed,  he felt the thrill of power and of control. absolution:  all those days and nights he had fevered in fear; all the times he had watched, helpless, as the enemy had unjustly harmed the innocent in his way.  a life extinguished. power gained. wealth advances.  absolution. all those many days and nights provisos of the creed disregarded, an act, a life, a gift, for love of god.

for love of god, they gather at the wedding and the funeral and the birthright. the first estate takes center stage and recites well-known verses ascribing meaning to tired phrases that sound old and common. in chic hotels, in firehalls, in cemeteries, in cozy parlours, the great moments of a life are clouded by the creed.  the preaching zealot distracts, frightened that he is without words to reach these primal moments, for in his time of rehearsing and rehashing and reshaping his ritual, he has abandoned the essence of connection and of living for his love of god.

 

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Wadjda

cropped-praying-girl-1.jpgWadjda is an award-winning movie  marketed as the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia.  As a western feminist, I consumed available press about the film  and decided to watch it as an act of support for the woman who made it and the story I understood that it told.  My conjured  images of black shrouds in the searing sun suggested that I would be moved and educated by this film.  How surprising, then, is the discovery of delight!

Black forms moving slowly on sunlit streets do in fact inhabit the film.  My western eyes see this without fully comprehending as I am willing to suspend judgement.

Behind the gates and doorways, in the daily action of the real lives of the largely  middle class women and girls we encounter in this movie, all is completely as we know it.  Appliances are modern, gleaming and available for the plentiful food.  Western popular music stimulates the tween girl as she surreptitiously creates bracelets and other “black market items.”  Mother and daughter share intimacies in large airy well-decorated rooms.  Discreet tensions and open conflict overflows from these spaces to the rooftop above where the women still dress in jeans and cool shirts looking down on their world.

Certainly the conservative culture controls female life.   Wadjda  watches her dignified, beautiful mother carefully groom her hair and apply her make-up in the morning before disappearing in a swirl of darkness.  The girl  flares in anger when a taxi driver, clearly economically and educationally disadvantaged and possibly an illegal immigrant, chides the woman like a child for being tardy in getting into his taxi for the three-hour ride through the desert to her employment.  The woman’s friend ultimately rejects this ordeal to find liberating employment in a local hospital.  The dynamics gently explored include the powerlessness of the women , the control of the driver, the ingenuity of the children and the authority of a male even if a mere boy.

Wadjda watches the mother she adores measure her own worth through her father’s eyes in terms of the quality and quanity of  food she prepares.  She struggles to comprehend why this beauty  subverts her own desires for style of dress and hair to please a man so rarely present.  Wadjda is beginning to comprehend  too well that, in her world, biology is destiny.

Contemplating the viewing of this film, I considered that this would indeed be a “foreign” culture.  How startling then to understand the complexity of emotions seen in Wadjda as she endures her conservative, female-dominated religious school.  The insistence of conformity in appearance, down to the shoes which are worn, the  absolute prohibition of any feminine decoration, including nail polish, the suspicion of female friendship, much less love, remain cross-cultural signifiers of  patriarchal social systems and female enforcerment.  Similarly, scenes where students mindlessly recite memorized “beliefs,” use of  shaming and group ostracism as disciplinary tactics and consequent consistent competitive subcultures are also well recognised.

Startling and joyous to feel recognition of the delight of  a child’s physical freedom.  As Wadjda runs down the street, even skips a bit, walks solitary but dreams of riding a bike, the memory of that joy is irrepressible.  When a child is lucky enough to have a full stomach, a secure roof and no present threat of physical harm or illness, exploring the sun -filled day with muscular limbs is a complete pleasure.  Even from my sedentary perch, watching Wadjda, I could recall so many  hours jumping in the sun-drenched Chesapeake waters. I could almost feel again the breeze through my hair on a spring evening as I rode my bike through shaded  streets of row homes or as I explored city spots which I could pretend were dark forests.

Watching Wadjda play with her precocious friend Abdullah, I envisioned my fair-haired daughter racing her friends aside a swimming pool in the summertime.  I remember the tension and  gladness I felt as I watched her small frame dart through other little bodies in pursuit of a soccer ball on a fall day.  I felt contentment that, though grown up, she still chases my puppy down the lane.

Wadjda is not a film which will change the world, if indeed any film can.  It is not a soapbox for any particular ideology.  The movie treats character and culture with respect but not without a critical lens.   For me the movie was a surprise.  It was a reminder that there are universals in life which transcend culture and political or religious systems:  childhood, sunlight, clean and open air, curiosity, hope, movement, friendship and love.