Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Hurt Locker: The (Mis)use of Sacred Muslim Symbols

After watching Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker I felt it was necessary to write about what I found to be a careless use of sacred sound design. The Hurt Locker is an Oscar nominated film about a US army bomb disposal unit in Baghdad during the early stages of the US occupation of Iraq in 2004. The film contains various intense scenes encountering IEDs, car bombs, and explosive vests disarmed by the film's protagonist, a young die hard bomb expert Sergeant First Class William James.

My greatest criticism with The Hurt Locker is its inconspicuously (conspicuous for Muslims) offensive use of the Muslim call to prayer and the Quran as a device to prelude a scene of violence. The sound of the "Adhan" (call to prayer) or verses from the Muslim holy book are heard before every scene discovering an explosive device.

However, the film's overall portrayal of Muslims and/or Iraqis is not completely homogeneous, unlike 95% of American films about the Middle East, but by no means is it a huge step forward. Iraqi characters range from militant Muslim gun men, pornography selling merchants, and innocent Iraqis living in a war torn Iraq.

The film as a whole I feel has no intention of painting Iraqis and/or Muslims as evil people. However, the use of Islamic symbols in the form of the Adhan and the Quran are used specifically to connote the presence of violence and danger. The use of these symbols as dark, exotic, and evil forces is not new to cinema (see The Exorcist), however, we should expect more from a film produced in 2008. Non-Muslim film producers somehow fail to see that these verses are sacred in Islam, a religion followed by over a billion people worldwide. Any use of these symbols to connote danger alienates the non-Muslim world from seeing Islam as a faith tradition rather than a doctrine of violence and hate.

I hope I'm not the first to tell say that this "critically acclaimed" work needs a lot more... work. I think it's time filmmakers stop pretending that they "understand" and start admitting that pretentious portrayals of the world only expose their ignorance.


Anonymous said...


Amir A. said...

When I watched it, I never got that feeling. What I felt it did for me actually is trying to put me in the shoes of the protagonist, trying to create an authentic environment. Very few know westerners know that it is a particular element of Islam per se'. Think about it with so many mosques in baghdad and the numerous times it's recited per day (5x at Sunni mosques and 3x at Shiite mosques) the sound is unavoidable if you as a cinematographer are striving for authenticity.
Also I didn't feel this movie creates biases or changes anybody's opinions about muslims and Islam.

Muzafari said...

Amir, I think what you said is right, directors, cinematographers, or whomever always try to bring in real elements into their movies and make it authentic, although this movie may not be biased as both Mashouf and you agree in a manner, On the other hand it creates Biased opinions by its young viewers perhaps?, and it is the young Muslims who grow up to live with the taunt and not us, as these movies effect society to a certain degree i strongly belive, If you want to create something like that, you can keep fake speeches in the background, like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Thats showing real life combat, but its setting creates a biased vision in your mind sublminally

Ahmed said...

The article is pointing to the fact that there probably isn't any bad intent in doing this but the "Islam knob" is turned up every time there is violence.. ask any psychologist about association and they will tell you that it will only help people associate Islam with violence..

Anonymous said...

cinematographers have nothing to do with sound... ultimately the choice to include so much azan and quran is the director's.