Nouri Bouzid, facing any taboo in the Arab world

Nemico dell'Islam? di Stefano Grossi

Enemy of Islam? Meeting Nouri Bouzid, an italian film by Stefano Grossi

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, losing sight of what was happening to our “neighbors”. Neighbors also from an economic and touristic point of view. At least until now. Relationships that suddenly need to be rethought…

The first neighbor that comes to mind is Egypt. Behind Pyramids and coral reefs, it revealed a 30-year dictatorship that had exhausted an entire generation of young people born in the 1980s who had known nothing but that type of life (or martial law). The desire for change triggers a healthy revolution which is, however, usurped and sedated again by increasingly extremist soldiers. “Repression? Mubarak was an amateur compared to Al Sisi“, the director of the italian geopolitical magazine Limes Lucio Caracciolo commented.

But another “friend” country that is under the radar is Tunisia.

In 2011, 3 days after the end of the Jasmine revolution, rapper Psyco M said in his song “he is an enemy of Islam, I will empty my kalashnikov on the creator of Making off“. He was referring to tunisian director Nouri Bouzid and his 2006 film that tells the story of Batha, a young dancer who dreams of Europe, but instead undergoes brainwashing, becoming a terrorist. The same actor, during the shooting rebels against Bouzid, because he was afraid of what people would have thought: “your film is a monster, this does not happen to us“. But seeing what happened years later, in 2015, both at the Bardo museum and on the beach of Susa, not to mention the thousand of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Nouri Bouzid

Nouri Bouzid

Is Nouri Bouzid really an Enemy of Islam? This is the question which is also the title of Stefano Grossi’s documentary. He’s worked on it for 10 years, but then he couldn’t find the “large-scale distribution”. He defines it as an “essay doc”, meaning “that it creates questions rather than give answers”: “Nouri had very interesting and unpublished ideas about Daesh and considering how long ago he spoke, and in light of what happened then”, even in an open and moderate Tunisia… “they had a predictive effect for me”, Grossi comments.

And the questions are these: why do we allow italian Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini to speak more about Islam than Bouzid? Why doesn’t Daesh attack Israel which is there at hand? Why losing women to become men? Why did model students suddenly leave for Syria? “Because at some point you no longer have any confidence in your country…” Bouzid says.

Bouzid is the most important Tunisian director. In his films he has dealt with any impossible thing to say from an Arab country: homophobia, torture, political imprisonment, repression, patriarchy, religious fundamentalism, anti-Semitism, sexual pathologies. Nothing has been overlooked, really. Without forgetting that in cinema (as in life) style is the most important thing: stories that are close to the heart must be told in a prodigious way, so that the viewer does not wish to watch others”, is written in the description of the documentary.

After a childhood spent in Tunisia, in 1968 Nouri Bouzid emigrated to Belgium where he studied cinema until 1972. After returning home, he spent 5 years in prison for his political beliefs. This experience will be evoked in his films through violent scenes, some of which represent a wildly beaten and humiliated prisoner. Bouzid’s films, in fact, refer to a different topic from time to time, which is dealt with in its entirety and crudest and most realistic way, a symbol of desire for modernization and liberalization that clashes against the injustices and prejudices of the common thinking”, it’s written on Wikipedia.

Batha si rasa i capelli prima del suo martirio nel film Making off

Batha shaves his hair before his martyrdom in the film Making off (2006)

A few more days pass after that rap song, and Bouzid is attacked at the University of El Manar in Tunis where he teaches cinema: someone hits his head with a metal bar while he is turned away. The police then offered him protection, but he refused: “it seemed paradoxical to ask for help someone who tortured me for years in prison“, preferring instead to add the staging of his funeral in his film – playing an accordion player – to exorcise fear and feel ready for any eventuality.

In fact, already at his first film’s release – Bouzid despite everything has been operating since the 80s with 8 films – the first problems occured: The Ash Man (1986) is selected in Cannes and wins the Golden Tanit at Carthage. It talks about the sexual violence suffered by a young boy who must now marry and become a man. “They don’t prepare us for this, yet at some point you have to get married: I thought that in my film I would have put a protagonist who would reveal all this inability on his part and all the pressure from the family, who should support him and instead try to force him to something that doesn’t belong to him”. All this, according to Bouzid, impacted the whole society: “we are defeated people. How can we win if you destroy us since childhood?

Let alone the rape.In our tradition there is a strange reversal of roles, where the rapist is proud and the victim must be ashamed“. I remember once, when I returned to my city in Sfax, I met my brother and other friends and acquaintances playing cards in a bar. I joined them, and I recognized someone who had been a rapist when we were younger, even though he was a few years older than me. Well, at a certain point he said to me, and repeated it several times, without anyone reacting in any way: “if I had raped you as a young man you would not have had the courage to open your mouth now“.

On top on that, media began to call Bouzid “the rape specialist” and, after the release of his film, one headlined in red: Bouzid was sodomized, “but the sodomy I had undergone was only mental“. The great problem of Muslim society lies in the fact that “it does not recognize the individual, only institutions exist, God, the Government and the family. And right inside the family we received the biggest defeat, never giving space to the child who at some point finds himself having to ‘command’, but is not ready. For this reason, in my films, rebellion is the only true realization of freedom for my characters, even if it ends badly“.

Una scena da L'uomo di cenere (1986)

A scene from The Ash Man (1986)

It is useless to blame old mechanisms if the situation is still: as in the dialogue with the actor playing Batha, Bouzid claims that the precepts of the Quran were fine for when they were written, they cannot be taken literally as a reference for our daily life. They can be an inspiration. These restrictive precepts did not allow the rich Arab-Muslim culture to expand (from astronomy to mathematics, from botany to chemistry…), allowing other countries to take over: “Gutenberg defeated Muslim culture because we did not want the reproduction of knowledge for the people”. And even on colonialism few recriminations: “from a certain point onwards the fault was upon Tunisia and Algeria, which did not have sufficient spirit of independence. We are not children, we are all responsible”.

Another aspect that weighs heavily down is “the impossibility of secularism in the Arab world”, while the real enemies of Islam are the fundamentalists: “they are preparing the fall of Islam. The serious risk for Tunisia and the Arab world”, according to Bouzid, “is not to become victims, in fact, but rather a factory of killers: you cannot dream, according to no logic or belief, to kill other people“.

Globalization is a paradise that hides hell: in Tunisia today we have the same problems as developed countries, despite underdevelopment. The students of my courses are often not interested in cinema as a means of freedom’s expression, they ask me rather how to make money”. Here, the idea of consumerism is even where there is still nothing to consume.

La bella protagonista di Millefeuille (2012) che sarà costretta dalla famiglia a indossare il velo

The beautiful protagonist of Millefeuille (2012) who will be forced by the family to wear the veil

Fortunately, sometimes news like Ben Gardane’s arrives. “Arrive” in a manner of speaking. Few media reported “an important fact for people’s awareness” that could give everyone hope: years ago, in this border town near Libya, the Islamists attempted a call to arms through loudspeakers after the American bombings. “But the inhabitants of that city remained lucid, they did not respond” and called the police instead: families even denounced their children. It was also the proof that terrorists and traffickers are not always the same thing: “in a frontier city like Ben Gardane, many people work in trafficking, but all have refused terror. It is the dignity of the people who live near the desert”.

Therefore, terrorism is fought by the population, by young people, students, women, and not through even larger armies”. There are other rap songs, like those by Rayes Le Bled, and they speak of justice. It is the people who are strong when they do not stop to to the logic of abuse (and) power: in the end it is all a problem of human interpretation, in the Quran, you find peace if you want peace and you find war if you want war.

The real problem of Islam lies in people’s head“.

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