Thursday, February 11, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Popular Film on Afghanistan Dividing Peoples of Russia Rather than Uniting Them

Paul Goble

Ft. Lauderdale, February 11 – A new film based on the true story of a group of Russian Federation citizens whose plane was forced down in Afghanistan 15 years ago and who spent 378 days as prisoners of the Taliban could have been a great opportunity “to show the brotherhood of Russia’s peoples,” Muslim leaders say.
But instead, they continue, it is dividing them because the director chose to rewrite history replacing Tatar and other non-Russian heroes of the actual events with purely ethnic Russian and religiously Orthodox Christian characters and even changing the name of the airline to make it more Russian as well.
And these Muslims suggest, Islamic directors need to produce their own films for a Muslim audience, a step that could further divide the Muslim and non-Muslim populations of the Russian Federation unless if forces Russian directors to shift from their current nationalistic approach.
Last week, even before the film “Kandahar” was released, Fatykh Farifullin, the head of the Tyumen kazyat, said that television advertisements for the film disturbed him because they had “created the impression that the only goal of the creators of ‘Kandahar’ was the exacerbation of anti-Muslim attitudes in society” (
The film’s director says in these ads, Farifullin continued, that the Taliban tried to force the prisoners to accept Islam. That is not the case, the Muslim judge said. As evidence, he reported that Vladimir Sharpatov, who was the commander of the flight and was named a Hero of Russia for his courage, had said that such things never happened.
Sharpatov told me, Farifullin continued, that the Taliban had proposed that the members of his crew become Muslims and remain in Afghanistan, but the Afghan radicals never used force. “Moreover, some members of the crew were Tatars, and it wasn’t necessary to force them [to become Muslims] because they already were.”
Among the Tatars in crew of the downed aircraft, Sharpatov said, was engineer Askhat Abbyazov. But in the film version of events, “a member of the Taliban” injures not the Muslim Abbyazov “but an invented Orthodox ‘hero” who in the film declares that he has been ‘baptized’ and from whom [a Talib fighter] ‘rips off’ his cross.”
Farifullin said that “the cinematographers had a beautiful chance on the example of the members of the multi-national crew to show the heroic achievement and brotherhood of the peoples of Russia. Instead of this, everything is reduced to a banal slandering of Islam and the elevation of Orthodoxy.”
At least, the Muslim leader continues, that is how it appears from the advance publicity, and Farifullin added that “let us hope that the picture itself will not be so one-sided.”
Unfortunately, now that the film is out and playing to packed houses across Russia, Muslim commentator Ibragim Bekov writes this week, the film has lived up to its advance billing. Sharpatov himself, a Mari, is presented as a Russian, and Gazinur Khayrullin and other non-Russians decorated for their heroism are as well (
The reasons for this are unfortunately obvious, Bekov says. “Film is a most important ideological instrument and a most important means of earning money.” Thus, many people want to use movies to send a message, and they know that “Russians want to watch movies about Russians, Tatars about Tatars and Georgians about Georgians.”
“You won’t get many viewers in Russia for a film in which the heroes are a Mari and a Tatar,” he continues, “and a director who understands how things are will have to deal with that.” But in this case, more was involved, because with his film, [director] Andrey Kavun killed several birds, ideological, financial and religious, with one stone.”
Kavun was able to attack Islam by presenting the Taliban as the only Muslims present and equally able praise Orthodoxy and Russians by suggesting they were the only ones the Taliban was going after, thus ensuring that his film would win a large audience among ethnic Russian and Orthodox Christian viewers.
Such an approach was clearly going to offend many Tatars and Muslims, Bekov argues, but this was not so much “a misfortune” for the film’s backers as a guarantee of the film’s and their success. Moreover, after seeing a film described as “based on real events,” many Russians will go home without doubting anything it portrays.
Muslims and Tatars should not get angry about this, Bekov says; they should get even. Many in Russia’s Islamic community don’t like how Muslims are portrayed or even excised out of positive roles. But at the same time, they oppose on Koranic grounds making films because that is making human images.
But if Muslims are going to counter the negative image of Islam or overcome the elimination by Russian directors of positive Muslims from their films, then Muslims must be willing to get involved in producing films which show their point of view, however difficult that may be given the relative size of the potential audiences.

No comments: