Four Lions and a Bogeyman

Most of the pub quiz team names this week were based on the Osama Bin Laden story rather than the royal wedding, which restores my faith somewhat in the priorities of the British public. Nonetheless, the significance of the assassination of one terrorist shouldn’t be overstated…

On Sunday night I saw the film Four Lions for the first time. I’ve been a huge fan of Chris Morris’ various works for as long as I can remember, but for some reason I hadn’t got around to seeing this (I think I was living abroad when it was in the cinemas, and parsimony meant I waited for the DVD price to come down – it’s a very reasonable fiver at Fopp).

It’s a great film, with all the edgy laughs you would expect from a Morris construction, but it goes far beyond comedy. Not simply into political satire, where the message is perhaps a little obscured by the surreal aspects of the production, but into tragedy. I found it genuinely sad and at times very moving. Riz Ahmed is outstanding as the *serious* Jihadi, Omar, a strangely sympathetic young family man whose wife (Preeya Kalidas) and child are perfectly happy about the idea of his impending martyrdom.

Each of the other main characters was given tragic aspects. Faisal is a crackpot who trains a crow to fly into a tower full of “Jews and slags”; Waj (Fonejacker Kayvan Novak) the hopeless dope obsessed with paradise, or “rubber dinghy rapids” as he prefers to imagine it; Barry (Nigel Lindsay), the presumed convert with the zeal of the neophyte but not the intellect to match; and Hassan (Arsher Ali), the son of a wealthy textiles man who wants to prove himself.

When news of the film’s production first broke there were the usual Morris-related bleatings about inappropriate humour and insensitive subject matter. Yet again – as with the Brass Eye paedophile special – he has proved incredibly adept at revealing the flaws of protagonists and the prejudices of outraged observers alike. Also of note: great cameos from Benedict Cumberbatch, Julia Davis and The Actor Kevin Eldon, among others. And the most important message of the film is, of course, “fuck mini-Babybel!”

The events at the end of the film are predictably and traumatically pathetic. Without giving anything major away (for anyone who still hasn’t seen it, that is), it is mentioned in passing that Omar and Waj had – during their less-than-glorious stint training in Pakistan – accidentally knocked off Osama bin Laden. With that, I went to bed, and woke up to the news that this had actually happened. Well, not exactly, but close enough.

So, the bogeyman then. Joe Glenton’s Ghost. Fisk’s Middle-Aged Nonentity. Blair’s Perpetrator of Violence. Amis’ Product of his Family Background.

I was unpleasantly surprised that, alongside creeps like Don Foster, David Starkey and Nicholas Boles, one-time historian Tristram Hunt was calling the killing of Osama Bin Laden an unequivocally good thing (see Young Voters’ Question Time). Aside from his now-forgotten historical training – we know that there are no unequivocally good things, it’s a ridiculous conceit – this case in particular is as murky as hell. When Rowan Williams has an uncomfortable feeling it’s probably a good idea to break out the metaphorical Alka-Seltzer.

I’m not surprised that Bin Laden was killed rather than captured alive. If he ever stood trial (which, in any discussion of justice, would have been infinitely more preferable), he was bound to reveal all sorts of C.I.A.-related grime. Particularly, it would be no shock to discover that the U.S. was closely involved with the post-Mujahadeen until the very moment of the war in Afghanistan and perhaps beyond.

The dumping of the body is more puzzling, and has led to all manner of conspiracy theories. A rather compelling one is that it was done precisely to encourage such whispers and divert attention from the fact that the U.S. carried out a hit against a criminal in a nominally unrelated (and allied) country. Clearly Pakistan emerges from this debacle with little credit either way.

What has bothered me most is the fog of lies that emerged in the first press conference. It immediately brought to mind the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, who was originally reported to have been running away, wearing a padded jacket with protruding wires. I remember at the pub that night the primary reaction of those I spoke to was “they had to do it”, based solely on those initial reports. And first impressions count. If the U.S. was worried about global reaction to the killing of an unarmed combatant (no matter what he had done in the past*) in dubious circumstances, then there would be somebody preparing a story which prima facie made the Navy Seals out to be the unequivocal (in the Manichean terminology of Tristram Hunt et al) ‘goodies’. They can worry about letting the real story trickle out later.

Like Menezes, like various stories involving the state and its agents in the U.K., like so much else in the news, the message here is not one of good triumphing over evil. It is that you simply cannot trust your elected politicians and unelected agents of the state to present anything like the unvarnished truth.

*Again, why don’t we have to use “allegedly” in this case? He never went to court. Not that I doubt it, but you know, a little consistency would be good…

Published in: on May 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Really good point about first impressions. By the time the truth trickles out, the media attention has usually moved on and the gut-instinct-perspective’s already been put in place.

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