Briefing: ‘The Siege’

Briefing on ‘The Siege’, release date 8th January 1999 from Islamic Human Rights Commission, December 1998.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned that yet another Hollywood movie depicting (practising) Muslims as terrorists is to be released in Britain this week. ‘The Siege’ is set in Brooklyn, N.Y., and involves a bombing campaign by “Muslims” which prompts the American military to declare martial law and carry out a mass arrest of American Muslims and Arab-Americans. The scenario is similar to the detention of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

This is just the latest in a long line of movies e.g. True Lies and Executive Decision which popularise the image that the Islamic faith and Muslims promote terrorism and violence. The rise of Islamophobia in the UK in recent years has worrying parallels to the anti-Semitism in Germany and across parts of Europe in the 1930’s. The images which ‘The Siege’ promotes are, in the opinion of IHRC, as dangerous and outrageous as those implied in the work of Leni Riefenstahl and her cruder counterparts in Nazi Germany.

The issue of this film – which stars three of Hollywood’s biggest names and thus will be seen by many, however poorly it may fair – cuts to the very heart of freedom to express one’s beliefs and to be respected. After a concerted campaign by concerned groups in America, Fox – the film’s makers – recut a trailer and removed images of Muslims at prayer that had been cut between scenes of terrorist acts. Further Denzel Washington who leads the cast, made a public statement to the effect that the trailer indeed was in poor taste. While such comments are appreciated, they are not enough to counteract the negative imagery and stereotyping that Hollywood has been perpetuating.

The effect of Islamophobia in the UK, can be seen in actions as diverse as discrimination in the workplace and education, the singling out of Muslims, and those with Muslim names at airports, harassment of our children, and even threats against Islamic institutions. In recent years extremist groups such as Combat 18 have shifted their prime target to Muslims. Unlike the vigorous campaigns against anti-Semitism which have reduced and re-educated many in this country, Islamophobia remains largely untackled and Muslims are left marginalised and demonised at every level of society. Some politicians have not helped. The publicity around the recent Criminal Justice (Conspiracy & Terrorism) Act 1998 made spurious suggestions that Muslims in the UK were somehow operating to support world-wide terrorism. The stark fact remains that any detailed analysis of the statistics of human rights abuses reveal that Muslims are the victims of around 80% of the atrocities committed around the world.

Ethnic cleansing and genocide are always preceded by demonistaion. Will it take another Bosnia, another Shoah, for British society to learn that Muslims are an integral and essential part of it and not its enemy?

The makers of ‘The Siege’ have claimed that their intention is to depict the abuse of constitutional rights and criticise the targeting of minorities. However the context in which this is played out, IHRC feels will not serve this purpose except for few who consciously enter the theatre armed with these concerns. For the majority of film-goers for this type of film, the purpose is entertainment, and the images portrayed will be locked into their subconscious and re-interpreted in a prevailing climate of hostility towards Muslims.

IHRC requests MP’s to call for the protection afforded by law to Sikhs and Jews to be extended to cover Muslims and other religious minorities. It further asks them to call on the producers of ‘The Siege’ to include a filmed insert* at the beginning of the movie stating their goal of challenging intolerance and infringements on Constitutional rights. We hope that you will lend your voice to oppose the intolerance and rise in Islamophobia which this film will unfortunately give rise to.

* It is not clear at the time of writing, whether the producers have acceded to this request from American campaigners. Please contact us for more details.