1998 NCC News Archives

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Film "The Siege" Feeds Fears & Prejudices, Not Understanding

By the Rev. Dr. Bert Breiner*
Co-Director for Interfaith Relations
National Council of Churches
November 5, 1998

In order to build a strong nation at home and peace throughout the world, it is necessary to build a sense of community based on mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect. In a complex society of many cultures and religions, this requires both goodwill and wisdom. The new film "The Siege" demonstrates neither.

"The Siege" presents a scenario in which Muslim terrorists from the Middle East threaten the United States. The threat is of such magnitude that martial law is declared in some areas and Muslim and Arab Americans are rounded up -- a scenario reminiscent of the internment of Japanese Americans in camps during the Second World War.

Following the Oklahoma City bombing, both the media and the general public displayed an alarming willingness to assume that this was the work of Middle Eastern or Islamic terrorists. Mosques throughout the country received direct threats of violence in the days which followed. Other minority groups besides Muslims and Arabs were also frightened by the threatened backlash. In the light of this, it would not seem "wise" to use the powerful medium of the film to feed once again such fears.

Of course, the film is fiction. The prejudice and fear which resulted in earlier threats of violence to American men and women, however, is not fiction. It is a fact of recent memory. The intention of those responsible for "The Siege" would appear to prey upon the fears and prejudices which surfaced so readily following that painful and very home-grown tragedy. Anyone who claims to be unaware of the inflammatory nature of such a scenario displays ignorance of the realities of the world in which we live.

We are speaking about men and women who will be affected by this film. The fears and prejudices which many people already have of "Muslim" or "Arab" terrorists will be heightened by the strong and powerful images of the film. The fears of those of our neighbors who are either Muslim or Arab will become proportionately more intense. Who could find value in playing on such emotions and causing such pain to men and women who seek to live together in peace and harmony?

We look for creativity from our artists. Is there not action and excitement enough for creative artists to explore in building a world which we wish for our children to inherit? This is the true challenge of the film to all of us. If our artists cannot be creative in the struggle for a society of mutual understanding, tolerance, and respect, can our churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples be creative? Will men and women of goodwill be creative enough to capture the hearts and minds of people in order to build a world where a film such as "The Siege" would be incongruous?


* The Rev. Dr. Bert Breiner is an Episcopal priest who served a parish in Philadelphia, lectured at the interdenominational seminary in Malaysia, and taught Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations as a recognized lecturer of the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. His PhD thesis was Abraham in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is an adjunct professor at Hartford Seminary and is regularly invited as a guest lecturer at New York University and Audrey Cohen College. Dr. Breiner's interests include Judaism, Islam and Christianity; spirituality; Islamic Law; Christian theology of other faiths; the interaction between religious communities and between religion and secular society; religion and human rights. Currently active primarily in Christian-Muslim and Christian-Native Traditional dialogue, he leads workshops and discussion groups, lectures widely to secular groups, church and mosque groups and at mixed gatherings, and has taught in a number of languages.

Contact:     NCC News Department
                   Rev. Dr. Bert Breiner

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