Full Frame Jihad

Full Frame Jihad
By Cinnamon Stillwell
FrontPageMagazine.com | May 27, 2004

May 27 2004

It is no secret that people with left-leaning political perspectives
dominate film festivals, and thus they tend to promote films that
reflect their worldview, while shunning those that contradict it.
This is certainly the case when it comes to films about Islam, one of
the Left’s pet subjects in the post-9/11 world. If a film does not
portray Muslims in a positive light (or as victims), it will
inevitably be labeled “propaganda” instead of “art.” Yet strangely
enough, actual propaganda is often lauded as “art.”

Mohammed Bakri’s Jenin Jenin, for instance, advances the myth that
Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) “massacred” Palestinians during
Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. [1] Despite being widely
discredited, this so-called documentary played at the Big Sky
Documentary Film Festival in Montana this year, [2] as well as
various “Palestinian Film Festivals” on college campuses across the
country, and it won Best Film at the Carthage International Film
Festival. [3] In contrast, Pierre Rehov’s Road to Jenin, an expose
about how the Palestinians perpetrated a media fraud in Jenin, has
played at very few film festivals. [4]

This year the Islam documentary making the rounds is Noble Sacrifice
(Thabh-ul-Azim) by Vatche Boulghourjian, an ethnic Armenian born in
Kuwait and educated in the United States and Britain. Shot in
southern Lebanon, this controversial film, which draws a connection
between the Shiite ritual of Ashura (self-flagellation) and the
popular mythology of “martyrdom” throughout the Islamic world,
recently screened (April 2, 2004) at the Full Frame Documentary Film
Festival in North Carolina. [5] The film description at the Full
Frame website demonstrates a typical moral ambiguity towards Islamic
terrorism, saying:

“Noble Sacrifice examines the historical and philosophical
implications of Ashura on current socio-political conditions and
military theaters. More importantly, it challenges audiences to
contemplate the rationality underlying the act and discourse of what
has become one of the most controversial topics in contemporary
history – suicide bombing – recognized locally as martyrdom
operations. [6]”

Unsurprisingly, the documentary’s bloody imagery and glorification of
suicide bombings were the subject of a heated debate after the
screening. What film festival promoters had billed as a “provocative
discussion,” turned out to be a revealing experience. Boulghourjian
vowed never to show the film “in the United States again,” after a
Muslim woman in the audience called it “irresponsible for connecting
violence to Islam” and someone else labeled it “propaganda”. [7]
Tellingly, no one commented on the film’s celebration of terrorism,
only its politically incorrect depiction of Islam.

The Noble Sacrifice panel discussion also shed light on the
intersection of film festivals and universities. Panelists included
two Duke University professors, Negar Mottahedeh and Miriam Cooke.
Both Mottahedeh, a professor of Literature and Film, and Cooke, a
professor of Modern Arabic Literature and Culture, have a long
history of promoting leftist politics through their work at Duke
University. Professor Cooke has also been very active in Duke
University’s Islamic Studies Department. She is co-director of the
university’s Center for the Study of Muslim Networks (CSMN), [8] as
well as being involved in the 2003-2004 Carolina Seminar on
Comparative Islamic Studies. [9] And it turns out that Cooke had
crossed paths with Boulghourjian’s film once before.

Noble Sacrifice had been set to screen at Full Frame in 2003 (during
the liberation of Iraq) but was canceled at the last minute due to
“wartime sensitivities.” [10] Nancy Buirski, the festival’s founder
and executive director, was uncomfortable with the film’s negative
portrayal of Muslims and pulled it in what she called, “the spirit of
reconciliation and tolerance.” In making her decision, Buirski
deferred to Professor Cooke, who was to introduce the documentary.
But after viewing it at home the night before, Cooke refused,
describing it as “a sensationalistic film that was treating people
not as devotees but as fanatics.” She labeled the filmmaker “biased”
and called his linking of Ashura and suicide bombings
“reprehensible.” Cooke maintained that the rituals portrayed in the
film represented only a “local, cultish version” of Ashura, and
worried that they might “inflame anti-Arab sentiments.” [11] In other
words, Islam’s reputation as a “religion of peace” was at stake and
Cooke was not about to aid in its destruction.

In an interview in April of 2003, filmmaker Vatche Boulghourjian,
[12] disputed Cooke’s assertions, pointing out that self-flagellation
occurs in South Lebanon, “whether Miriam Cooke and other scholars of
Islamic or Asian studies like it or not.” And he stood by his
decision to associate Ashura with suicide bombings. Boulghourjian
cited Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of the Lebanese
terrorist group Hezbollah, for making “the connection between Ashura,
politics, resistance and self-sacrifice very clear.”

The documentary relies on archival footage obtained from Hezbollah
officials and includes scenes of suicide bombings, as well as a
videotaped “pre-martyrdom message” from Salah Ghandour, the Lebanese
suicide bomber who blew himself up near an Israeli base in southern
Lebanon in 1993.
Considering all this, Cooke’s assertions of bias seem a tad bit

The Full Frame Festival was by no means professor Cooke’s first brush
with notoriety. She gained attention in 2003 for co-organizing Duke
University’s “Axis of Evil” film festival, along with professor
Mottahedeh. [13] The series was dubbed “Reel Evil” and featured films
from Iran, Iraq and North Korea, as well as rogue states Syria,
Libya, and Cuba. The timing of the festival coincided with the advent
of the war in Iraq, which made it essentially a platform for anti-war
sentiment. Considering Cooke and several of her students attended an
anti-war rally in Washington D.C. the same year, this was hardly
surprising. [14]

Of course, the real target of the festival was President Bush and his
famous “axis of evil” phrase in the 2002 State of the Union address.
As Cooke said at the time, the festival was an “opportunity to see
the kind of work, cultural work, that people are doing in the
countries that our government has labeled evil.” [15] The fact that
the film from North Korea, Pulgasari, was produced by Dictator Kim
Jung Il and featured an actress and director who had been kidnapped
from South Korea and forced to work on the project, didn’t seem to
factor into Cooke’s reasoning.

Why professor Cooke, Buirski, and the Full Frame Documentary Film
Festival brought Noble Sacrifice back a year later remains something
of a mystery. Buirski had promised the film would resurface and with
the war in Iraq no longer a new development, she may have considered
the timing better. [16] Or it could be that organizers decided to
take the film festival’s motto to heart: “How much reality can you
handle?” How much indeed.

[1] Lee Kaplan, “PLO Propaganda Film ‘Jenin, Jenin,'” February 20,
2004. FrontPageMagazine.com:

[2] Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, 2004 Official Selections,
http://highplainsf ilms.org/festival/selections.htm

[3] Eric J. Greenberg, “Mapping a Controversy,” The Jewish Week,
January 31,

[4] Greg Myre, “Battle for Jenin camp flares anew on TV,” New York
April 3, 2004. SunSentinal.com:
,0,610 3335.

[5] Full Frame Documentary Film Festival:

[6] Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Panels:

[7] Holly Hickman, “Full Frame airs ‘Noble Sacrifice,’ pulled from
festival,” Associated Press, April 2, 2004. NewsObserver.com:

[8] Holly Hickman, “Full Frame airs ‘Noble Sacrifice,’ pulled from
festival,” Associated Press, April 2, 2004. NewsObserver.com:

[9] Center for the Study of Muslim Networks, Duke University:

[9] Carolina Seminar on Comparative Islamic Studies, Upcoming Events
on the
Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, 2003-2004:

[10] David Fellerath, “Confronting Reality From Home and Abroad; the
Full Frame Doc Fest,” Independent Weekly, On the Scene:

[11] David Fellerath, “Nausea on a sea of blood: Why did the Full
Festival yank Noble Sacrifice?” Independent Weekly, April 23, 2003.

[12] David Fellerath, “Confronting Reality From Home and Abroad; the
Full Frame Doc Fest,”Independent Weekly, On the Scene, April. 2003:

[13] David M. Lewkowict, “Staff, Students ‘Duke’ It Out Over Film
FoxNews.com, March 12, 2003:

[14] Arts & Sciences and Trinity College News, Miriam Cooke:

[15] David M. Lewkowict, “Staff, Students ‘Duke’ It Out Over Film
FoxNews.com, March 12, 2003:

[16] David Fellerath, “Noble Sacrifice,” The Independent Weekly,
March 31,
2004. IndyWeek.com: