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Proletarian issue 39 (December 2010)
Film: Age of Extremes
Dir: Ishmael Bargrove
Age of Extremes, the latest release from independent film-makers Rice N Peas, is an insightful, defiant and challenging documentary examining the perceived threat of Islamic extremism and the manner in which that 'threat' is stage-managed by the British establishment.

Opening with emotive scenes of the New York, Madrid and London attacks, the film critically investigates the 'post-9/11' society in which we live – a society of heightened security, apparent radicalisation, and a growing sense of fear – and examines to what extent this is reflective of reality.

The film uses no narration, instead allowing the contested opinions of those interviewed and the substance of their debate to stand alone as an alternative narrative to the standard corporate media discourse on Islam, terrorism and the legitimacy of British foreign policy. Its strength lies in the diversity of its contributors: ordinary working people, students, academics, community activists and former 'terror suspect' detainees.

By allowing those who have been demonised to speak for themselves, the film effectively exposes the limitations of British 'liberalism' and media 'impartiality'. The widely celebrated, though largely illusory, liberal 'values' of Britain are shown to be better upheld by many of those whom the media constantly present as trying to 'undermine' them.

This is particularly clear following the evidence of an amateur videographer who made it his business to record the sermons of the demonised cleric Abu Hamza. His footage reveals the wide gulf between what Abu Hamza preached and what the reporters told their viewers he had preached. Indeed, there is footage that shows journalists filing their bloodcurdling reports before the Imam had even spoken!

Also very revealing in this context is the interview with Mohamed Ali Harrath, CEO of the independent and much-vilified Islam Channel, whose obvious dedication to diversity of opinion and employment, as well as to exposing the lies of the British corporate media, puts most of our mainstream journalists to shame.

The weakness of the film's conversational format lies in its failing to make explicit enough the reasons for the growth of both muslim practice and the vilification of muslims in Britain. Many of the most important arguments are buried, while others of little or no significance have plenty of slightly distracting airtime.

By starting the film with footage of the bombings in New York, Madrid and London, the director seems to implicity recognise the imperialists' claim that the wars since September 2001 have been a response to such attacks, when the truth is that those attacks were themselves a response to a century of imperialist oppression and plunder in the Middle East by Anglo-American governments and corporations.

It is well documented that the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq had been planned long before 11 September. It is well documented that neither Britain nor US government or corporations have any problems dealing with religious fundamentalists of any kind – christian, jewish or muslim – if that helps them maximise their profits or control important territories.

Indeed, despite the fact that most of the New York attackers were Saudi nationals, and despite the feudal, fundamentalist and extremely oppressive nature of the Saudi regime, Saudi Arabia continues to be a firm 'ally' (ie, proxy) for Anglo-American imperialism in the Middle East.

Muslims are not vilified because they are 'extremists' who threaten our 'civilisation', but because they happen to be the main inhabitants of the countries where the all-important commodity oil is found. The imperialist desire to control this vital resource has led to huge suffering in the Middle East – and it is resistance to this oppression, and solidarity for that resistance amongst the western relatives of those being oppressed, that has made it necessary for the US and British ruling classes to demonise muslims in general.

The British establishment, utilising its media cronies, offers an aggressive and systematic distortion of Islam and whips up racist hysteria by hyping up the threat posed by what it describes as a 'dangerous minority' of 'extremists' to 'national security'.

These words are highly emotive, arousing opinion and judgement without proper analysis, encouraging the mass scapegoating of entire communities 'just in case', and providing the ruling class with all the premise it needs to pass undemocratic and repressive laws aimed at suppressing all dissent to its senile rule.

Internally, government opponents of all varieties (not only muslims) face internment, increased surveillance and a growing crackdown on political protest of any kind. Externally, we are offered a permanent justification for never-ending war, occupation and torture.

Age of Extremes successfully shows how the state, supported by the ideologically aligned media, manufactures threats and produces fear to divide the working class, to criminalise non-conformity and to legitimise oppressive action at home and abroad.

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