Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Farha speaks to the war-stricken Muslim-other

Amidst the rise and normalization of Islamophobia, the Jordanian feature film Farha brings the counter side of the disingenuous story- a breakthrough from a “terrorist Muslim” to a terrorized Muslim. 

Released on Netflix, the 90-minute film somehow defies the political economy of a giant platform, likes of which would barely allow the visibility of this “savage-other” as something, opposed to savage.

The film is about a girl witnessing and living through the war of 1948. Thousands of Palestinians were dispelled from their own homeland, in the event of Nakba or catastrophe, to create the state of Israel. 

In a world that visibly and increasingly works on the common denominators of hate, to justify every kind of violence, systemic hate of minorities, is a common cohesion to justify the politics of power. The tide seems incorrigible as epistemic violence against Muslims becomes sophisticated globally in stylistics and aesthetics in new media and popular culture.

Islamophobia- is an umbrella anchor of such hate, which gives countries and the collective conscience of most people in those countries a sense of nationhood- a brotherhood created on hatred of the “dangerously-savage” Muslim other.

Farha, which is about the atrocities on Palestinian civilians by Zionist militia, is a treat to a misconstrued Muslim identity over decades.

Farha’s story is unfortunately not the quintessential tale of Muslim oppression. As overwhelming as the story through the lens of a teenage girl is, Farha becomes a microcosm of a thousand forms of violence, the oppressed suffer each day. Director Darin Sallam heartbreakingly zooms in on one perspective- A Muslim Palestinian girl seeing a bloodbath, inside her and outside her and a world rips apart through her gaze.

The struggles of the protagonist caught in a war will come closest to the heart of every Muslim woman who has suffered violence in her land. Farha will be felt closely by those living a fate, if not similar to her but not in many ways different either, as the human toll of every war is just the same. Women bleed, wail, wait, and persist, with their blood-stained frocks, just like Farha.

Visible and invisible losses

The story sets in a Palestinian village. Ambitious Farha dreams of going to the city for her higher education. She impresses her strong character on the men (her father and her Quran teacher) who resist her wish of moving to the city. On the insistence of Farha’s uncle, her father finally agrees to send her to the city. However, she never gets to realize her dream. The conflict in the narrative takes off as Farha remains back locked inside a dark pantry of her house for days together. Through the crevices, she lives to witness war. 

In many unending wars, there may be statistics of the killed bodies, however, there are no records of the dreams slaughtered. Farha loses the companionship of her best friend and her dream of studying in the city. Sallam captures both losses, the visible loss and the invisible loss. After losing everything Farha opens the only torn chit from her best friend’s letter- a souvenir- “To my dear Farha, from Fareeda”

Peeking through Crevices

A major part of the film is shown through Farha, struggling inside a dark cellar. The claustrophobic setting becomes a metaphor for being caught in a war, from which there is no way out. Farha helplessly watches the days go by, as she loses her strength and dreams bit by bit. From her urinating in the room to getting her period blood, the justice of dignifiedly showing her struggle could only be best perceived on a woman’s instinct. Sallam’s  Farha clearly demonstrates that instinct with her judicious choice of camera movement. Through Farha’s gaze, Sallam shows the world unfolding in life, death, war and deception before her, just by peeking through the crevices of the cellar.

Farha witnesses birth, death and a dreadful revelation about an informer peeking through the crevices. 

Crisis of a Collaborator

Farha sees the masked Palestinian informer with the terrorist army. The crisis of a fluid political stand in a war is visualised through the disconcerting behaviour of the informer who tries to convince the army to leave a family they plan to kill. As he is a participant in the fate of the family, he pleads with the army and throws up. Sallam brings to notice an important aspect of a war situation, where the question of who is who always lingers. She makes it a point to show the crises of a collaborator, siding with the occupier. 

Bloodbath inside-out 

A newborn, cries outside the cellar and Farha, helplessly tries to break through the locked door, as she realizes death dawning fast on the baby. Farha gets her period, she gives up and helplessly hears the baby wail to death. How many women in war-stricken countries “come of age” with violence and an inside-out bloodbath just like her? Again the instinct could best come from a woman director’s gaze. The emotional journey as Farha clasps the viewer through the dread on her face is hauntingly etched on memory with the camera close-ups and the eerie pace of the film revealing within a dark setting. 

Many Muslims, like myself, went to watch the film in a hurry, in anticipation of it being taken down by Netflix anytime. Because why would a platform, as big as Netflix, create cognitive dissonance among people who have grown up feeding themselves hate through entertainment media, that “terrorist” Muslim characters offer with bearded and burqa caricatures? 

Who knows for how long Farha will feature on Netflix, as Israelis already threatened the platform. The film will also not go down well with most, because humanizing Muslims and representing the militaristic violence they suffer is beyond the motor sensory perceptions of masses of this epoch- courtesy- of the decades of Islamophobia machinery.

Farha is not only an important representation, told through a women’s gaze about the Palestinian war, but it is also a challenge to a systemic political sham where the atrocious occupation of Muslims is celebrated by dehumanizing the Muslim identity through misrepresentation.


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